Monday, January 28, 2013

People Watching: Writer Style


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...

18 comments:

Lisa said...

I need to find that Brevity Card, too!

My favorite place to people watch is the mall when my daughter makes me go (I hate it!!) There's all sorts of funny people there.

Hope YT feels better - that had to be scary!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You have two months to find it!
The running commentary was actually quite humorous. I find people watching at sporting events is quite fun. Usually I'm trying to gauge the level of drunkedness.

Arlee Bird said...

I've always enjoyed people-watching and look for stories in the people I see. You gave some great examples.

A short story you might appreciate is "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor. The story starts in waiting room and that experience provides the story that follows the incident. You can find the story on the internet if you google it.

I think most of us are people watchers whether we write or not. It helps to put ourselves into perspective.

Lee
A Faraway View
An A to Z Co-host blog

Shaharizan Perez said...

Tina, I do people watch and some of their characteristics I incorporate into my characters. However, I don't do it often enough, the incorporating not the people watching (I spend too much time doing that).

I know I shouldn't, but with some characters I do base parts of their personality on people I know. However, it's not the whole person really, just portions of who they are. :D

D.G. Hudson said...

Watching or observing those around us is a writer's entertainment, Tina. I wrote about this a while back (link below), because I do it all the time. I'm what I call an observer.

I don't like the word count LIMIT for the A-Z challenge. I liked the posts in 2012 that told us something interesting and some of those were longer posts. My Paris Etc. posts were, so I'm on the fence about joining the blogfest this year at this point.

My purpose in joining last year was to find interesting blogs, not just acquire numbers of followers.

Link: (if interested)
http://dghudson-rainwriting.blogspot.ca/2010/11/curiosity-as-research-or-just-plain.html

klahanie said...

Hey Tina,

Yay, I'm here and I watching you! :) Okay, I'm a people observer and like you, I observe the idiosyncrasies of those around me. Observational focus can make for an interesting post.

This you have clearly demonstrated. And thanks for reminding me about what I'm posting next. And no, that wasn't me self-promoting. If I wanted to do that, I'd set up my own blogfest! LOL

Seriously, dear friend, keep smiling and stay positive :)

Gary

Brian Miller said...

i am not a people watcher at all...smiles...its like my fav pass time....i make up stories about them...and def find characters for stories out and about....

Jenny said...

Great post. One can certainly tell a lot about people by how they manage themselves in the ER, that's for sure! Also, in my opinion, how people interact with children and dogs is very enlightening. I love to people watch. So many times I've wished I could be a fly on the wall!

Annalisa Crawford said...

I love people watching. I use their body language to workout conversations, which I then relay to my usually uninterested companion (poor Hubby).

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tina .. oh dear another trip - yet -- another opportunity to keep your beady eye out ...

Love your descriptions .. as I'm not looking for characters I just tend to sit quietly and hope I get some peace - then my brain can wander into its own world - rarely happens ...

Hope that head heals up completely .. and you can get your 'people' down ... as Jenny says that fly on the wall would be interesting .. and what Annalisa does - 'cept I need a hubby?! Cheers Hilary

JoJo said...

That was a fascinating study. I am not a people watcher. I have always been way too into my head when I'm out & about or in a waiting room. Always thinking or spacing out, completely unaware of my surroundings. Clueless. Oblivious. I look for or bring something to read and I tune everything else out.

loverofwords said...

Airports and anywhere you have to wait are good people watching places.
And at the free breakfast at IKEA (Mondays from 9:30-11, coffee too.)

LuAnn Braley said...

Following in preparation for the Blogging A to Z Challenge.

Glad to hear your boy is ok. It's rough when your kids are sick or hurt.

I am such a people watcher.

Want another scary ER story. We took my husband to the ER one night with chest pains...CHEST PAINS. It was taking forever - like an hour or two, so I went to the nurse's station to ask when we might see a doctor. Turns out the first nurse had left the clipboard in the room ... so nobody knew we were there!

Damyanti said...

I love people-watching. I guess all writers do?

Hart Johnson said...

HA! The ER is DEFINITELY a great place to people watch and try to figure out the stories. I like the airport, too, honestly. I tend to eavesdrop more than just watching... I'm pesky that way. And I'm a dialog junky. I love to put together a whole story from a few pieces of dialog. Gld your son will be okay!

M. J. Joachim said...

Thanks for making me smile tonight. Watching people (and reading blog posts about watching people) is so much more fun than watching t.v. :)

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I LOVE people watching!! I live in a very eccentric folk-arts town and the people are absolutely fascinating!

Rosalind Adam said...

We're a fascinating species, aren't we. I prefer to domy people watching in cafes while hugging a mug of piping hot coffee than in an emergency dept though!