I washed my coffee down with the atmosphere, drank in the patron’s demeanors and shamelessly imbibed in the conversations of those waiting in line for their preferred caffeinated fix.
Hurried mother’s with their misplaced teenagers standing beside them battled silently next to each other, mannerisms revealing more than words ever could. I observed. Young men fresh from the gym, bags slung over the shoulders and held in place by sweaty hands, exchanged war stories of reps and trainers. I took note. A grandfatherly figure held a small boy against his chest while his much younger looking wife ordered their food with a side of chocolate milk and a cookie. Granddad seemed so happy and proud. Grandmum was soaked in some bitter brew long before she ordered one. I saved this for later.
In public forums, we have the right to observe, record and use. Of course, me being me, I would change the names to protect the innocent. In these cases, I had no names. And I didn’t need to take notes either –mental ones are enough.
“Why did I do this? Am I some crazy stalker?”you ask.
No. I’m a writer. And that’s what we do. We watch. I confess I do it everywhere—in every event or setting I find myself in. This habit has helped me immensely in my writing. If not cognizant of my surroundings I wouldn’t have noticed how the handsome man at a party I once attended “brandish[ed] the beer bottle dangling [it] loosely from two fingers, palm displayed to emphasize [his] point” and many years later this random memory would find its way into my award winning short fiction piece, “Cocktails and Killers.”
Both in writing and in life I think we need to take time away from everything to just be part of the scene. Don’t think about the kids, the chores, that massive manuscript or college paper you need to finish. Simply observe.
Get outside of yourself in order to understand yourself and your characters. New experiences enhance our horizons. Allow us to see the world differently. Soak them in. If you do you may find that you are able to show your story and characters more fully. Perhaps someday it may surprise you when your agent finds your manuscript not only palatable but a delicacy to be savored. And just think, it will all be because of those telling details you learned through observation.