The Fun of People-watching
With the smell of charbroiled burgers hanging on the air, I sit in my office—back corner of Carl’s Jr.—writing stories and people-watching. When I really get focused on a particular scene the people become a distant blur, and when I get focused on the people my writing becomes a blur.
People-watching brings Charles Dickens to mind. Critics have said Dickens’ characters are not real, that many of them are cartoonish, mere caricatures. Not so! They are real, and they live right here in this desert town. I would describe them, but I might get sued. However, I do keep a people-watching notebook. The caricatures I observe day to day somehow find their way into my stories, if only a bit here and a piece there—personality, looks, actions, eccentricities.
People-watching may distract from the moment, but as they say here in Nevada, it is a vein of gold worth mining. Furthermore, people-watching is fascinating: observe and take notes. And if you are a writer, when you develop your story characters, refer to your notes and enjoy fashioning your character’s nature and personality.
Onan the Traveler
I will take a chance. Here is an example from a story I am writing—Crucible—of a character developed from people-watching: “Early one morning, a few days after Ander left for Arpad, a strange little man dressed all in black arrived at Hegira. Kovan met him at the garden gate just beyond the tower. The little man’s dark eyes drooped with sadness and gravity etched his brow. ‘It appears some great sadness weighs on you, friend,’ offered Kovan. The man’s tiny mustache twitched and his nose dripped. He wiped at it with the back of his hand. ‘Indeed, it does,’ he responded in a squeaky little voice. ‘I am Onan the Traveler.’ The poor little man shook his sagging head.” (edited to show characterization)
Story Characters with Flavor
Tales of a Church Mouse has a number of fun Dickens-like characters. But in truth they are found in a number of my stories including Unlikely Heroes and the Acceptable Fruit anthology. Tales of a Church Mouse and Acceptable Fruit are available in paperback as well as digitally.
Whether story characters have the flavor of Dickens or the flavor of a writer like Jan Karon, they are the result of people-watching, whether the observations were intentional or merely the result of rubbing shoulders with people day to day. Some of us bring our people-watching into our writing and some of us do not, but we are all people watchers. A good example is the interesting pictures of people seen at Walmart stores that are posted regularly on social media.
Interact with Me
Do you enjoy watching people as much as I do? God made all of us special—unique! People-watching brings characters to life. Which of your favorite authors does an exceptional job of developing story characters? If you are an author, do you journal the characters you observe? Interact with me via the comment box below.