Glorified People Watchers

The other day, Hubby and I were sitting at our favorite coffee shop. While I typed away at my my current WIP, he sat across the table working on a Sunday School lesson. Out of the blue, I said “Explain the Higgs boson particle to me.” He glanced up and launched into what the particle did and what the scientists had recently found. I peppered him with questions and he fielded almost all of them, which isn’t what I wanted.

See, I know what the Higgs boson particle is, I just hoped to ask him something that would confuse him. It didn’t work. I didn’t get a single confused look. So I tried again this morning with a different approach. While he picked out his clothes, I popped my head in the closet and said “strawberry higgenbotham Portugal sandwich.” This time I got more of a response, but not much. “Giant fish dog porpoise!” I yelled. He just looked at me like I was crazy, but he did not look very confused.

“Just look confused!” I cried.


“Because I need it!” I pleaded. “For my book!”

He blinked a few times and started getting dressed. Clearly he doesn’t understand how un-helpful (yeah, I’m pretty sure I made that up) he’s being. One of my characters in my WIP looks confused at a certain point. I’m not satisfied with just saying “looks confused;” I want to describe the face. Need to describe the face. But I can’t see it. And Hubby stubbornly remains expressionless. I mean, really, who can not look confused when someone yells “strawberry higgenbotham Portugal sandwich” at them at seven in the morning? Apparently my husband.

That’s when I realized what I am, what I’m sure most writers are: glorified people watchers. Sure, we write, but what we really do, is people watch. Go ahead, admit it. I know I’m not the only one sitting in public place eavesdropping on a conversation to hear how their dialogue flows, or watching the people argue at the next table to see how they move their bodies, or stalking the couple in a deep debate to note their facial expressions. I store it all away in my mental Rolodex until I need it for a certain scene.

This morning, after Hubby’s noncompliance, I cursed myself for not having a “confused” file in my brain cabinet. (Don’t worry, I will be on the prowl for confused stares now!). This isn’t the first time Hubby hasn’t responded the way I needed. I know saying “hey, look confused” doesn’t work.  It’s like asking someone “How do you say oil?” Instead of saying it naturally, their immediate response is to break down how they say it. So the results are tainted. You have to catch them off-guard. “What’s that stuff you have to replace in your car every 3,000 miles?” “What? Oy-yl?” That’s how  you do it (and you may catch yourself a confused expression to store as well).

Since the test subjects in closest proximity (i.e. Hubby) are tainted, I’m going to have to up my people watching. So if you see someone sitting on a bench in the park or at that back table in the coffee shop looking at you oddly and studying your face, don’t be alarmed. It’s probably just a writer (good news, you’ll be in a book!).  Or it’s a creeper…in which case you likely should be alarmed…

Writers, do you people watch for writing tips? *Or do you just people watch?

*In the interest of candor, I’ve always been a people watcher. It’s only recently I realized all those years of people watching have helped my writing and started doing it intentionally.

8 thoughts on “Glorified People Watchers

  1. Great post. Might I suggest asking a customer service worker a weird question? Ask a waitress for a cup of steam or a hardware store person for a left-handed hammer. You might get that confused look you covet. 🙂

  2. i do people watch all the time. i will even say out loud to whoever’s around me if someone does something extraordinary or just too outlandish not to capture, “that is so going in a book some day”. many times i’ll write a quick character sketch or just jot down what they may have said to help trigger my memory later. (always have to have writing utensils with me!)

  3. Hahah, I loved this! I people watch too though, like you, have done it even before writing. My mom got me into it. Always when we were in a cafe we would point out the interesting people passing by.

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