People-Watching: Part of a Writer’s Repertoire

People Watching at a Baseball Game is IdealAh – that thing we do when we’re in a too-long line at the grocery store, or when it’s 0-0 at the bottom of the eighth.


People-watching has always been fun for me, but since I’ve started trying to write fiction, it’s taken on a new twist.


I used to people-watch out of habit, I think. Or maybe it was just an insatiable curiosity about people, and life’s fascinating characters. I mostly people-watched to figure out relationships: I’d be sitting in the roaring heat of a UCLA football game, when the score was too depressing to watch, and decide to watch, instead, a row of seven people, all together. Two would appear to be parents, five adult children. I’d then ponder which of the children were siblings and which were couples. Sometimes I’d get fooled: a young man and young woman would get up to go get snacks, come back together, razzing each other, and I’d think “okay, they’re dating.” But then both would lean in toward the parents with such affection that I’d reassess: “Okay, they might be brother and sister.” A set of three would go off to buy souvenirs and return, and I’d try to figure out if the one girl was dating one of the boys, if they were all friends, if the two boys were perhaps brothers, if the girl was a sister and one of the boys a friend, or … Well, you get the idea.


In more recent years (the fiction-practicing years), I started to people-watch more for nuances, expressions, and unique situations. I watched an elderly gentleman memorizing French flashcards at a coffeehouse; a pretty young woman at a park bench who wore a strange fake silk rose in her hair; a young man trying to feed a toddler at a fast-food place, looking so terribly uncomfortable I couldn’t imagine he was the father (Was he an uncle? An older brother? Babysitting for a day?).


My favorite places to people-watch are baseball games and football games – I guess because you have a couple of hours to figure out the relationships. But malls and movie theater lobbies are fun for catching nuances and unique personalities.


What about you? Do you people-watch? Where are your favorite places?

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0 thoughts on “People-Watching: Part of a Writer’s Repertoire

  1. That little boy looks so cute sitting there eagerly watching the game. A perfect shot of a kid enjoying being a kid!

  2. I can people-watch for hours. I like to try to figure out who they are, what they do and I look for clues as to where they are from.

  3. Since I tend to shut out the world and concentrate on internal thoughts (Probably due to my INTJ personality), I’ve had to concentrate on opening my mind to the outside world. It’s required a change in my own character trait and a good one at that! Especially for character development in my writing.
    As for places to people watch–grocery stores, movie theaters, book stores, and church (before the services begin ). And today—at the post office.

  4. David — Yes, looking for clues as to where they’re from is another fun element (that I forgot to mention!). Especially challenging if you can’t hear the voice, or detect any type of “accent” or slang.

  5. Oh, gosh, Sonja, I forgot about church! I remember people-watching as a child, and especially in church! I think, as you said, people-watching gives us a true appreciation for people in the “outside world” — and all their wonderful nuances!

  6. Just got back from a long cruise and the best-ever people watching was on the ‘formal night’. Its so much fun to see everyone in their elegant (ok, and in some cases, not-so-elegant) finery. Our cruise was a long one (26 days) and so was populated with many elderly passengers, so it was not unusual to see canes, walkers and even wheel chairs. My personal favorite was a couple who looked to be in their 80s, he in his powder blue evening jacket and she in her navy sequinned dress, hand-in-hand heading for the show after having their portrait taken. The seas were a little rough and they leaned on each other to keep their balance and giggled like little kids. It was so cute.

  7. Hi, Helene! Oh, gosh, people-watching on a cruise seems perfect! I never thought about that one. Not only because everyone’s relationship to each other would seem so mysterious (is that a family reunion? a CLASS reunion?), but because you’d really get a chance to see so many people from all over the country (or, depending on the cruise, the world). How fun! And the long, long cruises you go on would be even more ideal — with seven days at sea, why not spend at least a few lying back on a lounge chair, sipping mai-tais and wondering about that couple next to you?

  8. People watching used to be one of my favorite pastimes (is it one or two “t”s?–should have spellcheck on blogs)….Years ago I traveled constantly to Mexico and South America and on of ways to pass the time while spending countless hours in airports was to watch people and try to guess who they looked like. I pretty soon all my colleagues (one or two “L”s?–where is spellcheck?), were doing it too…..Anyway as we identified the famous person, we would would call out their names to each other so that the other travelers could hear us…Something like “look there goes John Travolta” or “Robert DeNiro”…..and everybody would turn and start buzzing and in some cases someone would walk up to the poor “victim” and ask for an autograph…Sometimes we’d walk by the “lucky” person and say “hi Mr. DeNiro”….and keep walking and again the buzzing started…..This became a contest and the person who identified the most “notables” got free refreshments for the rest of the trip, paid by the others……On one trip through Miami, we must have seen a dozen people that looked like then Attorney General Janet Reno(I swear!)It was unreal…That is when I quit playing the game…..

  9. oh, I liked this post because I do that too and I thought it was just me! I always do that when I’m bored, but I’m looking for their personality rather than their relationship with the people around them. I’m proud to say I haven’t seen one person that hasn’t fasinated me in some way. I especailly love to find people that know they stick out from the crowd and don’t care.

  10. Hi, Nene! Yes, it’s fun, isn’t it? Especially when you find the ideal place to “people watch”!

  11. I love to people watch at the airport. Sometimes you can witness very happy moments (families reuniting) or very sad moments (soldiers going off to war). When my son was younger, we used to people watche while we were traveling. We would assign names and professions to people. Sometimes it was quite hilarious!

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