Can People Watching Make You a Better Writer?

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“A good writer is always a people watcher.” – Judy Blume, author

Ever find yourself in a public place watching other people go about their business? Chances are you are probably a good writer. Why? My guess is that the act of carefully observing other people can create a store of knowledge that you can tap into later during the process of writing. That’s something to think about as you create characters for your novels, develop dialogue or re-create scenes.

Judy Blume makes an interesting point. If you want to become a better writer, it makes sense to pay close attention to the details of your surroundings, especially the people near you.

You can watch people anywhere – the public park, a library, a coffee shop, a music festival. Anywhere where there is a group of people gathered is ripe for people watching.  To make the most of the opportunity, however, you need to set aside your laptop, smart phone or other electronic device, and watch. True, people might find it strange that you are staring at them, but they don’t need to know that you are building your base of characters or that you are preparing to write your next novel.

Here’s how becoming an avid people watcher can help improve your writing.

* It helps you focus on details. When you observe the people around you, note how they dress, from the shoes they wear to the color of their shirt. Pay attention to their physical attributes, facial expressions and mannerisms. Listen to how they speak. Do they blink too much? Do they have crooked teeth? Do they wear a hearing aid?  Do they enunciate their words properly, or do they use a lot of slang language? These little details may normally go unnoticed, but can add color and depth to your character’s description.

* It helps you create dialogue between characters. Listen in on their conversations, whether they are on the phone or in conversation with one or more people. Pay attention to not only the content of the conversation, but also the mannerisms as they speak. Do they get excited and talk with their hands, for example? Do the individuals talk over one another, not allowing others to speak? Do they raise their voices when they get excited, or do they cover their mouths when they speak? These little details can help create context for dialogue beyond just a simple exchange of words.

* It helps you create characters with unique characteristics. Is there anything unusual about their appearance, for example, such as a scar or a tattoo, or do they walk with a noticeable limp?

* It helps you build a story about them. Since you probably don’t know these individuals personally, you can create a story about them. Where do they come from, and where are they going? What are their dreams, their motivations? What are their fears? What kind of work do they do? Are they married or single? What kind of personality do they have – shy and withdrawn, or outgoing and friendly? Give them a name, a home, a life, and you have the ideal set up for your character.

If you want to improve your writing, start with developing good people watching skills.

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