Are you a people watcher? I think I've always been. I used to just watch because it's fun, but now I've found that it's a great way to build depth into your characters, and get ideas for minor ones.
I think waiting rooms are the best for this exercise, and believe me, I've spent my share in a wide variety of those. This week found me in the ER with my “Youngest Teenager” (the child formerly knows as YellowBoy who is now 13 and is starting to like red...too...)
I don't know if non-writers do this, because I've never asked one, but I watch people for details so that I can figure out who they are and why they are there. This is not much of a challenge at an airport if they're at the gate with you about to board the same flight to Seattle. It's much harder in the ER.
What's wrong with them? Why are there three family members over there (all who look like they could use a visit to a doc) and a perfectly normal looking guy over there who looks like he's in line at the DMV, except for the carefully folded, faded red piece of cloth he's clutching? Tightly.
The man screaming verbally abusive obscenities that I'm glad my head injured child is paying no attention to seems to have been dragged here by his romantic partner, who when threatened, tries to sneak a pill out of her purse and hand it to him over by the bathroom but not much escapes me. They leave after he swallows it with...spit I guess. Probably not his day for a full mental health evaluation though I applaud the woman for trying. He's in obvious need of serious help.
The trio also leaves. They do stop by the desk and leave saying, “We don't have time to wait anymore for the migraine to be treated.” “OK” says The Cheerful Guy who made my head-injured boy answer all the form questions. Good for him. Head injury test and registration all in one.
I still don't know if it was guy-on-oxygen looking like death, or slightly older woman between her two companions, looking like life had gotten the best of her, or the girl whose face I never saw because woman in the middle was stroking her head THE WHOLE HOUR we sat there, who had the migraine. I'm voting for Mr. Oxygen, though.
However, Cheerful Reception Guy sure got an earful about letting them leave. A “clacker” (name the movie) supervisor came by and the gist of the um, rear-chewing boiled down to you can't let ER patients leave without trying to make the experience “more satisfying” for them. “What are you going to do next? Dip it in yogurt and cover it in chocolate?” (I'm in a movie quoting mood...) I don't think that would have helped. I know as a patient that I have the right to refuse treatment. Besides, no one complained when the mentally unstable man left.
My YT (TCFKAYB) (youngest teenager, the child formerly known as YellowBoy) is fine. He has a closed head injury but bounced back like kids do by the time the weekend was over. Meanwhile, I've met some people who just might show up in my novel. Mr. DMV even came back out to the waiting room, red cloth folded in a different configuration..I'm dying to solve that mystery.
Do you people watch? Do you use that for your characters? Or do you have another method you'd like to share?
~Tina, who really needs to find the brevity card before the challenge starts...