I’m a writer (if you couldn’t tell). I’m also an extrovert. By “extrovert,” I mean I gather my energy from others, and love being in public. I’m not a social butterfly, I’m not a partier, but I love to interact with others. I love to talk, too, but that’s beside the point.
A fortunate byproduct of this extroversion (or perhaps in spite of?), I’m also a social studier–something I have in common with my introverted, albeit social, fiancee.
We people watch. She from afar, me from up close and personal. Both of my brothers do it, as well (my older brother more than my younger). Some people might consider that strange, but it’s not a matter of being creepy and judging or anything like that. Our people watching is a practice in understanding the world.
My characters is the most important aspect of any book I write. I am dialogue heavy. I absolutely can’t avoid the interaction. I write about introverted characters that have to open up (story demands it!), and I write about extroverted characters trapped on a deserted island (Wilson, anyone? Anyone?), and of course I write about groups of introverted/extroverted and how they react to each other doing their things. It’s vibrant, and I feel every book requires developed, complex, intricate characters.
A TV series that was recently canceled, called Lie to Me, takes this “people watching” to a CIA-esque micro-expression level: the series was about a whole corporation dedicated to figuring out who was lying and who wasn’t. Now, they limited themselves because (unfortunately) whoever was in charge of the whole concept behind it didn’t have much training in the subject, or the producers ‘blocked his/her interest for more mundane, audience-pleasing repetition of eye twitches and hair scratches.
People watching is my mental exercise. Where scrabble or crosswords or fluid dynamics are some people’s mojo faucets, watching people is mine.
Whether they’re happy, or whether they’re sad, frustrated, lonely, insecure and hiding, insecure and trying to make the best of things, etc., is something anyone can train themselves to see. Avoiding eye contact is another big one for me (my father’s an engineer, but he’s also pretty dedicated to manners and politeness. In fact, he showed me a book he had on manners: he got me started on this whole, ‘understanding people’ thing).
You don’t have to go to a park to do this, either. You don’t have to go to a library and stare people down, or even invite five friends over for poker night (although that’s an excellent way to begin). All you have to do is turn on the TV and watch a reality show (Jersey Shore Not Recommended). An awesome show for this (and my latest passionate interest) is Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. You get a control subject (the straight guy), who is clearly missing something in the confidence/self-respect department, you get five very confident gay guys (sans Carson. He’s a mess), and you have a plethora of environmental subjects that come and go throughout the show (family/friends/girlfriends). If you prefer to not watch this show (I don’t see why you wouldn’t like it, but some people are too busy/disinterested in fashion/house organizing to care), you can watch Ghost Hunters/Ghost Adventures (the latter is an excellent study in Leading the Eyewitness), What Not To Wear (eh), or even COPS (yes. I said it. Cops) to figure out ticks.
It’ll do your writing a world of good, and I, for one, can never get enough. Perhaps it’s my extroversion, but the more I know about a person, the more dynamic he/she becomes. Every single person has a “motive,” every person has an environment, and they’re all ticking like clocks.
The more you know about them, the more you know about yourself. And vice versa.