Friday, August 15, 2014

People Watching to a Whole New Level

Do you every people watch while you’re driving?

It can be done without crashing and without accident—I’ve done it. In fact, I do it every day on my drive into work—since I have a half hour commute to where I work fir this literary agency, I tend to use the time to think about the people I’m driving by.

There is one intersection when I take advantage of this level of people watching (you can see a lot even for that split second when you zip by them). Most often I’m only going about 30 miles an hour and they are stopped at the light while I drive by.

Some things that I’ve learned and/or observed?

  • ·         They are almost all business people on their own commute.
  • ·         Many of them are yawning.
  • ·         Or drinking something out of a mug—it always disturbs me to see an open mug, clutched in one hand as they navigate their steering wheel with the other
  • ·         Some are jamming to music probably much too loud for their speakers—but I can’t tell over the noise my own music is making
  • ·         Many are on the phone. Facial expressions vary from laughter, boredom or animated talking—and I wonder—what would I hear if I were listening in on that conversation?
  • ·         Some have a companion in their passenger seat that is chattering, hands flying in description and the driver wears a very bored expression. Are they married? Are they are the fritz? Failing to communicate to the level they should be? I wonder.
  • ·         Some aren’t even looking at the road, instead glancing over the tops of their sunglasses as they mess with their phone, music, lean toward the floor boards, etc. I’m always glad they are going the opposite direction that I am.
  • ·         Parked at a stop light, many pull their purses into their laps and start digging furiously. Others sort their mail. Still others dance as though in their own private party. Me? I just try not to make eye contact with the car behind me and the driver I can see and observe in the rearview mirror.

What is the point of all these observations? They are all people. People with characteristics that help make our characters well rounded and interesting people on the page. Characters that have that level of authenticity.

Do you often think about what you look like to your fellow drivers as you drive down the road? Have you ever stopped to wonder what kind of story these people have to tell? The lives they have lived—the struggles they are in the middle of facing? These people have a story to tell and sometimes I tell it for them as I pass. Watch what is happening across their face in the split second that we meet and pass and I form a story for what is bringing them to this exact moment.

It’s a gold mind of opportunity for a writer. It heightens your level of observation and makes you that much more keenly aware of the people around you—even as you drive.

What interesting things have you noticed as you were driving down the road?


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Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She is a total country girl, now living in a metropolis of Denver, Colorado. 


11 comments:

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Hhhhmmmm, I hadn't thought about making up stories about people who are driving down the road with me. Well, sometimes if I see a cute guy on a motorcycle I will think of a lovely storyline. :) I've been listening to audio books lately as I do my 30 minute commute to work...it sure makes the time go by fast!

Casey said...

I have so much fun thinking up stories for people I drive by. Sometimes you'll see some interesting stuff!

I listened to an audiobook a month or so ago and it is great. I have one more to listen to--need to do that eventually!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Ooo I love this, Case! Such a fun exercise! I do this too! Just a few minutes ago I saw a van with tinted windows on the highway... Filled with soldiers. Really got my story juices flowing. Training...a secret mission?

On the other hand, I probably look crazy to the causal observer. Singing along... Talking to the kids in the back... Probably looks like I'm talking to myself ;)

Thanks for this, Casey dear! Love you!

Laurie Tomlinson said...

I am the psycho who gets caught car singing with the windows open at night. It's one of my favorite things to do...and I think people-watching is my second! I'm constantly studying people for character inspiration (especially at the gym). Probably more than is socially acceptable :)

Casey said...

Amy, I dream up all kinds of weird scenarios for those dark vans, armored trucks and the bored looking business women. ;) SO much fun! Really is a study in characterization for those split seconds you zip by someone. :)

Casey said...

Laurie, we be writings, I saw observe on! Nothing is going to stop us...except maybe a restraining order. ;-))

I turn my music up loud too! It's bad when I get home on Tuesday nights from Bible Study/Frisbee night, after 10pm and driving through a neighborhood...oops. ;)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Casey,what a fun post. I watch people too when I'm driving (and at the Y, and at restaurants, and.....) I love it. Especially in a restaurant I wonder what's brought two (or more) people to that moment in their stories.

I need to people watch more, though. :)

Have you ever transcribed conversations? I listen to men speak sometimes to get a feel for their conversations. :) (Don't tell though ;) )

Casey said...

People watching is great fun at an airport too!

I have not transcribed conversations, but one of my favorite (awkward places) to listen in on conversations are dressing rooms and bathrooms. Crazy what people will say when they think they are "alone"...um you DO know those walls are sheetrock thin, right?? :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

People watching is pretty fun no matter where you are! Though it's particularly fascinating when you have no audio, like in a car... And you get to make more interesting assumptions in a way :) coffee shops, drs offices. Fascinating!!

Emily Ann said...

This is a great post! I do a lot of traveling and people watching out the window (I'm usually the passenger so I can stare out the window all I want). It's very interesting! =)

Angela Verges said...

I love this post. Great ideas for characters. I would be the person jamming to music. I may even be caught crying if a favorite gospel song come on the radio.