Monday, June 30, 2014

5 People Watching Tips

by Jemi Fraser

Summertime is here (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) and many people will be heading out on vacation sometime in the next few months. As a writer, one of my favourite things to do on vacation is people watch.

1. Spot the Tourist

Or business person or teacher or musician or pilot or artist or... Switch it up to find different kinds of people during different parts of the day. Look beyond the obvious clothing and check out some of the less obvious clues: head up/down, eye movement, fluid/jerky body movements, facial expressions, accessories, hair, jewelry, hand gestures... Think about the vocations of your characters and find someone who does the same job. How do you know?

2. Eavesdrop

So much fun! Love hearing bits and pieces of conversations and wondering about what happened before to create that particular snippet and what will happen afterward. You can capture great hints for dialogue: length of sentences, tone, pauses, interesting speech patterns and so much more.

When you're eavesdropping, listen to the flow of the various languages and dialects as well. Can you identify the speakers' home regions? What makes their speech patterns special? Listening to people speak different languages to each other is especially fascinating - I love the blend of the languages and the brain's ability to think in both at once.

3. Big Crowds

If you have the chance to be in a big crowd at a sporting event, a concert, charity event or any other big venue, look for what stands out. Who's been dragged to the event and is bored beyond belief? Figure out why that person is there (obligation, business, love...). If it's a sporting event, spot the people who are cheering against the home team and watch how they handle it.

Look at the range of outfits in the crowd. Listen for the uncomfortable voice or the one that drips with sarcasm or the person on the edge of tears or temper. Find the most passionate fan. Watch the body language change as the event moves along. Find the couple most in love, the one about to break up.

4. Public Transit Footwear

When I'm on public transit (everything from subways to buses to boats) I like to check out footwear first. Then I build an image in my head of what else the person might be wearing. After I've got the image set, I check out the reality. It's often WAY different from my expectations. (You can do this anywhere, but for some reason, I like public transit for this  one!)

5. Clothing Fiascoes

(Disclaimer: I am one of the least well-dressed people I know!) As you're moving through your vacation, look for those folks with the wildly inappropriate outfits, then assess their emotional states and figure out how they ended up wearing the exact wrong thing. Are they over-confident? Oblivious? Obnoxious? Rude? Desperately uncomfortable? Superior? Again, body language, tone and eye movements are your friends and will tell you so much more than the person would expect.

So while I think vacations are the perfect time to leave your laptop at home and recharge your energy, there's no need to let your observational skills get rusty!

What's your favourite people watching venue?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.


Old Kitty said...

In queues!! You get the best titbits of weird conversations when queuing!

Take care

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And determine if those poorly dressed people even have a clue they aren't dressed well.
Sporting events are great places to watch people. Ever the assortment.

JeffO said...

As one of those poorly-dressed people, I object to your watching me!

I live in a summer tourist community. It is a very interesting place to be.

Beth said...

I love people-watching too - I think being observant is one of the keys to writing success. Thanks for your great ideas!

Mason Canyon said...

Great tips, Jemi. One thing I've noticed is how people react when they're with different people. For example, how a guy might act when he's with his wife compared to when it's just him and a group of guys without his wife in earshot.

Jemi Fraser said...

Old Kitty - perfect! I hadn't thought of lines at all - but you do get awesome dialogue!

Alex - sporting events are my favourite! You definitely get all kinds of folks!

Jeff - don't worry - people are watching me too! :) Tourist destinations are awesome!

Beth - you're welcome! They're fun :)

Mason - thanks! That's an awesome one - we do react to the people around us!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Picking out the tourists in foreign countries is fun. Especially Americans - they are the most obvious.

Shelley Sly said...

I love these! I've played some of the games you've mentioned. I like going to happy places like theme parks and watching the frowning people. I like to guess what made them unhappy.

cleemckenzie said...

These are great. I'm particularly excited about trying out the inappropriate fashion game. That's going to be fun.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I watch them in the bookstore café and one of the things I find really amusing is the silly really high heels that some young women wear. They look like they hurt.
Airports are great places to watch people.

Jemi Fraser said...

Diane - that's interesting! I'll have to look for that :)

Shelley - exactly! It's fun to check out who sticks out!

Lee - it is! I often wonder if people point me out though!!! :)

Susan - so true on the heels! And airports is awesome - you'd get the gamut of emotions there!

DEZMOND said...

I'm guessing watching through bathroom keyholes would be most fun :)))
And we love to eavesdrop....

Theresa Milstein said...

I do 1, 2, and 5. Can't help it!

Have a wonderful summer.

Karen Walker said...

I love to people watch. I especially love eavesdropping. It's tricky not to get caught.

Jemi Fraser said...

Dezzy - eep!! Eavesdropping is fun!!

Theresa - me neither! :)

Karen - and it's so embarrassing when we get caught!

Medeia Sharif said...

I love people watching wherever I go, but I especially love to do it in big cities. People are so busy, there are residents and tourists, and there's a great variety of people.

Kelly Steel said...

Love the post! Yes, people watching is fun, we try to make stories about people we see on the road as we drive by!

Jemi Fraser said...

Medeia - I agree! Visiting those large cities is a ton of fun!

Kelly - me too! I love imagining the backgrounds of strangers :)

Carol Kilgore said...

I'm a people watcher and eavesdropper, too. I like the idea of starting with feet. I usually start with just the face, so I'm going to try switching it up.

klahanie said...

Hello to the, From the Write Angle and hey Jemi!

You can certainly put your observational skills to the utmost with your points.

It's good to observe folks and their idiosyncrasies. Wow, fancy word for me!

My favourite people watching venue has got to be the reduced price section in the supermarket. Watch the "old rage" pensioners in action. I dare not get anywhere near the reduced price section :)

I'm outta' here, eh....And yep, I tweeted this.

Gary :)

Crystal Collier said...

NYC... I think that was my favorite part of living there--other than the cheese. You could go anywhere and people watch, and wow! Talk about variety.

Jemi Fraser said...

Gary - great point! I've worked a bit in retail and it can be very, very interesting!! Thanks for tweeting! :)

Crystal - I'd love to go to NYC! One of these days I'll make it - such a great place!!!

Julie Musil said...

OMG the footwear idea is brilliant! I've never done that.

I took my son to a football camp at UCLA a couple of weeks ago. While he worked on the field, I people watched on campus. Totally fun.

Jemi Fraser said...

Julie - it really is! People are endlessly fascinating! :)

Ava Quinn said...

Such great reminders, Jemi! :) Thanks !!

Jemi Fraser said...

Thanks Ava!! :)