It’s amazing how much a broken ankle is a perspective changing event. Suddenly, I can’t go outside by myself for fear of slipping on the ice. All the small things are now so much more time-consuming and difficult. I now understand why elderly people will fight tooth and nail to keep their right to drive. Mobility means so much in this world.
Since I have so much free time and the lack of mobility to do much with it, today I’m going to bring back a past-time from my creative-writing days. People-watching. Not in the sense of making fun of people but in a more constructive way.
Here’s the process. Go to a comfortable place with a fair amount of public present – i.e. a coffee shop, mall, etc. You’ll need a notepad and a pen or a laptop. Coffee shops are generally my favorite because the clientele tend to stay longer than what you might get in other public places. Find somewhere comfortable to sit and then just look around.
Take in your surroundings. Make notes on the background sounds, smells, overall atmosphere. Then take a look at some of the people around you. Find someone who catches you as interesting. This will be your character. They could be very similar to you or you could be complete opposites. You’ll find that the type of person you focus on will change every time you do this.
Once you’ve found your character, you have two main options on how to write. You can try to put yourself in their shoes, making their story as realistic as possible for this person. Or you can just write, using the real person as a starting point but not worrying where their story takes you. Now write. Write their background, their life, why they’re in the coffee shop, anything that helps explain who they are. Spend at least 15 minutes continuously writing, with no pauses. Don’t stop short though, if 15 minutes isn’t enough just keep going.
Once you’re done, relax and give your character a name. Then put your pages away and don’t look at them for at least a day. This will give you some separation before you do any revising.
If any of you should happen to do this, let me know how it goes. I’ve always been a huge fan of people watching and really enjoy taking it this extra step.
- 7 Collaborative Storytelling Websites to Weave Your Own Digital Stories (makeuseof.com)
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- The Story Problem: 10 Thoughts on Academia’s Novel Crisis (themillions.com)
- Iain Banks Interviewed for Open University Course (iain-banks.net)