As writers, people watching is one of our jobs. When we’re out and about, we watch how people walk and move, we study their mannerisms, and we look at their facial expressions. If we’re close enough, or sometimes not so close if the people are loud enough, we can hear their tones of voice.
For those of us that have jobs that don’t allow us to get out much, we might have limited opportunities for people watching. This is where television is helpful.
When I sit down to watch a show, I notice everything. I don’t watch just for entertainment. I use that time to study. If the actors are in a heated argument, I note everything about the scene–their movements, their expressions, their tones of voice. If there is a particular tic, it doesn’t escape my attention. If a couple is in an embrace or kissing, I look at their hand placement, the tilt of their heads, their expressions before they kiss, and the liplock. I’ve been known to pause and play back the scene I just watched to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
I have a little notebook that I jot all of the details in as I’m watching. But when I write down the details, I try to come up with phrases that describe the action. Instead of saying he’s angry, I might say his eyes lit with fire and his nostrils flared at her words. Some of my phrases may be awful, but some I might be able to use in a future book. My little notebook is another resource for me to go to if I’m stuck on a scene and need that one perfect body movement or facial expression.
If you don’t have a lot of time to go out and people watch during the day, television shows could be the next best thing. Give it a try the next time you sit down to watch your favorite show.
I’d love to hear from you if you try it.