All Eyes and Ears
Michele: My blog post on Wednesday focused on people watching, one of my favorite things to do as a writer. I’ve written about how years of people watching in courthouses has filled me with stories. I’ve written about people watching on planes, boats, and cabs. So my question for my fellow Miss Demeanors was, do you people-watch? Where do you do your best people watching? Do you incorporate what you see into the stories that you write? Cate: I constantly people watch. One of my favorite things is to pay attention to other people’s tables at restaurants 🙂 slyly, of course, so as not to creep anyone out. Paula: I travel a lot, and so my people watching happens mostly at airports and train stations. Fortunately for me, they are great places to watch people. Although in truth I’m always watching the people around me. I spent much of my childhood in new places, including other countries, and so I’m used to being the outsider observing the locals. I suspect it’s very good training for a writer. Alison: Of course! I probably first started people watching at church when I was little and had to sit for hours and not fidget. By the time I got to college, one of my favorite airport activities was “guess the country of origin.” When I’m lucky, I overhear a snippet of conversation to see if I guess correctly. It’s the most interesting when I’m wrong. I think someone will be speaking Russian and it turns out he or she is speaking Italian. It forces me to rethink all the little clues that make up how I perceive other human beings. My daughter made an observation when we were people watching in Berlin a few years ago. She said I didn’t look like an American tourist because American women tend to wear their hair long. I hadn’t noticed until she said something, but when I started paying attention to that detail, she was right. Of course, I was an American tourist, so my short hair would have been a misdirect. (Okay, okay, I did live in Germany as a kid and still speak German, so maybe that’s not an entirely fair example.) Paula: I really think American women should get over that long hair thing LOL Alexia: Do I people watch? Have you seen my Facebook dispatches live from the Deerpath Inn?I people watch at restaurants, public transportation, hotel lobbies, the Symphony Center, church, pretty much anywhere people gather. To paraphrase Matthew 18:20, for where two or three gather, there I am with them watching and listening. I don’t generally use exact quotes from what I overhear or exact descriptions of what I see in my writing but I do create characters and dialogue that were inspired by real life people and conversations. Michele: I have seen your posts about the Deerpath Inn, Alexia. Don’t be surprised if you spot me there someday when you’re people watching. What’s a little plane ride? Alexia: Michele, I’ll show you where the best people watching seats are. Robin: Me too, Paula. I’ve had short hair since high school. Once I figured out it’s flattering to my features, I haven’t gone back except a couple of occasions that only served to remind me why I keep my hair short.As for people watching, heck yeah. Commuter trains, restaurants, museums, conferences, walking around cities, it’s all fair game. Airports are interesting because so many people are so stressed out and it manifests in all kinds of ways, some subtle, some not so subtle. I may or may not also occasionally take pictures while pretending to text. Tracee: Uh oh, what do I do with the long wig I just bought? It’s waves of black hair to my knees… you’re saying that’s probably not my best look? And the matching blond one. Sad. People watching? That sounds much better than eavesdropping, which is what I feel like people watching often turns into. Big cities are the best, and New York in particular. Everyone on their cell phone, often talking very loudly, striding by or sitting down without a care for the people around them. Like Alexia, I have never used sentences poached from this real life, but it has certainly been inspiring. Occasionally I wonder if they are making up their end of the conversation to amuse the crowd around them! Paula: When I first started going to NYC on a regular basis when I became an agent, I would post random lines of dialogue heard on the city streets….so funny! Robin: I always listen to strangers around me to catch snippets of conversations. They sometimes make great writing prompts. Once in a while, it’s helped me with character enrichment. Michele: I will confess to eavesdropping too. Occasionally my husband I will be almost completely silent when out to dinner we are so enraptured by a conversation at a nearby table. Afterward we will talk endlessly about what we heard, what each of us thought the people meant, what kind of lives they live… We are such an exciting couple. Alexia: I’m so glad I’m not the only sneaky picture taker.Tracee,*Almost* never used.Paula, I will post overheard lines on FB. Some of what I hear is so wild that if I put it in a book it would be edited out as too unrealistic. Paula: ha! indeed! Robin: I may or may not have snapped this pic while people watching as I waited for takeout Thai food.