Tuesday, 19 April 2011


  • To create realistic characters
  • To feel the sense of community
  • To become aware of relationship interactions
  • To appreciate the range of activities people engage in
  • To see character traits in action

If you want to write believable characters you need to be observant but be safe: choose a central and well-lit place. You mean no harm and you are not in hiding, so, in the Mall, the cafĂ©, the market or the park, sit back – or stand back – and watch what people are doing.

When you are observing others you get to witness glittering aspects of ordinary life: the smallest smiles, the careless touches and the looks. There will be the emotional moments. There will be physical moments too. The two combine when decision-making including fine or gross motor control go badly wrong: from the unwelcome stroke to the trips and slips of disco-ordination ;) or very right.

From a distance it isn’t the dialogue that is fascinating it is body language. Stance, gesture, unconscious movements all reveal the truth much more clearly than words do.

Observation is informative but it is also fun. 

Consider what it was that made you focus on the individual: size, clothes, movement or appearance. Make up stories about who they are and what lead to them being right there and at that time. 

The scenes you witness are snap shots of real life.

Real people are inspirational.

The best way to captivate a reader is with a sense of reality and truth.

In a park you may see toddlers, small children, teenage boys, girls in matching fashions, men in suits and silver-haired pensioners drawn into kicking a ball. In each group, everything about their body language (before, during and after) would be different even though the activity they are engaged in is the same. They would react differently if someone from one of the other groups tried to join their game.

It isn’t just what people do but their reactions and inter-reactions you capture on paper when you write.

It is true that your very presence may alter the behaviour you are witnessing but, get out there – anywhere public – and observe.

Learn from your experiences and the feelings they evoke in you.

You are trying to learn, by observation, what it feels like to be someone else. That is next to impossible but it should help you develop a clearer understanding of what it means to be someone else rather than you painted smaller, larger, younger or  older.

You will be spotted – no matter how unobtrusive you are trying to be. No one likes a busy-body and voyeurism can be taken to wrong places. When being observant you need to consider people’s privacy, personal space and you need to be respectful and show no disrespect.

If you are caught out:
Smile, shrug and look away.
Shake your head as if you were lost in thought
Get your head down and don’t look up until they’ve moved on.

A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others - William Faulkner

Overly emotional?
obligated, oblivious, obnoxious, observant, obsessed, obstinate, odious, offended, officious, omnipotent, open-minded, opinionated, optimistic, ornery, outgoing, outraged, outspoken, overbearing, overjoyed.


  1. 2 out of three ain't bad :)

  2. Hi Siv Maria
    Go, girl! I bet all three are lurking, really ;)

  3. One of the great parts of living in the city is you always see different people, and you don't need to go far for inspiration on characters. All I need to do is take the subway after college classes and BAM! Fifty characters. There's always fascinating people in subways.
    Staring at strangers gets uncomfortable, though (I don't recommend it in the city xD), so I usually just hide behind my sketchpad and draw them. Less awkward, and people usually react well to being sketched. :p

  4. Hi Brigitte
    I envy you your artistic talent: imagine being able to sketch the people you see.
    I find the observing fairly easy - it's the note taking part I have more trouble with. ;)