As any writer knows, there’s more to writing than just putting the words down on paper/into the word processor. There’s the planning and plotting process, there’s editing, reading, formatting and sharing. There’s also taking note of the world around you.
When you want your story to come across as realistic and for your characters to be believable, you have to base parts of them on reality, on things you’ve experienced or saw/overheard. But what happens if you’re kind of a homebody? The shy type who doesn’t get out much or have a whole lot of friends? A lot of writers I know are pretty introverted. I can certainly be as well.
So how do us shy folks learn about what the party folks and others are doing? It’s very simple. We people watch and eavesdrop. I suppose it sounds like an invasion of privacy to some, but hey, if you’re talking loudly in public you’re free game. It always kind of amazes me the conversations people will have in public places thinking others won’t hear them. I’ve heard sex talks on the train, party details while at restaurants, extremely detailed one sided phone conversations about your baby’s bowel movements over cubical walls. -Cringe-
It all makes for possible story fodder. You know this stuff happens in real life so you can write it in. Granted you may often only hear one side of it, but that can prompt you to think about what the other side of the story may be and use that to flesh out your characters and the plot to make it more realistic.
When it comes to the people watching, I like to don a pair of dark sunglasses and sit somewhere that’s heavily populated with pedestrian traffic. Places like the Seaside boardwalk (yes, yes of Jersey Shore fame) or Penn Station. You’d be amazed by the amount of different kinds of people who frequent those places on a daily basis. When I lived on Long Island, I often met friends in the city so we’d plan to meet in Penn and I’d sit on the stairs leading to MSG and the people go by. I was always intrigued most by the unlikely couples. I would make up scenarios in my head about how they met and what drew them to each other. It made for some interesting stories and aspects have certainly been worked into my writing.
I think most artists have to be observers. Without the observations and conversations, our art would seem flat and unrealistic, unappealing to our audiences. I caution you not to look like a lech or butt into conversations, otherwise you might walk away with a fat lip, but if it’s seen or heard in public, I consider it fair game. Use your information wisely.
Do you have a favorite place to people watch? What crazy things have you overheard and put into your novels?