People Watching

People in the Bus for Public Transportation
The bus is a great place to sit back and observe. (Photo credit:

I was digging through some old notebooks this evening when I found a page of People Watching.

You can’t ever hear enough about this: writers, artists, filmmakers– no matter what your brand of creativity, it’s imperative that you go out and actually look at people.

I’m not talking about the standard stuff– you know, the way we usually get categorized:

  • Sex: Male/Female/Etc
  • Skin: Black/White/Brown/Beige
  • Eyes: Blue/Green/Brown
  • Hair: Long/short/bald
  • Body: Fat/Thin/Tall/Short

If you’ve ever got a spare moment– whether you’re waiting on the bus or enjoying a lunch break– take a second to look at people. Actually look at them. Listen to the way they speak. Watch the way they move and hold themselves. Observe what they look like. The features that catch your eyes. The mannerisms that make you take notice.

Even if you don’t think of it consciously, those descriptions will start to bleed into your work.

Here are a few from my list, written down while I was killing time between classes during my undergrad:

  • A small face on a small body, all mousy and pale, with radioactive pink lips glowing in the middle of her head
  • Thin, with dark hair like quills hidden under a crocheted cap
  • A Willy Wonka crooked grin (Gene Wilder, not Johnny Depp), with milk chocolate skin and sugared-coffee hair
  • Long, twiggy hands
  • He had a complexion like raspberry jam, flushed and pocked and all the more sweet because of it
  • A round face like an almost-full moon, encircled by night-black hair
  • Her confidence betrays a deeper self-consciousness. She uses too many big words, struggles never to smile or look too happy. Every action underlines a single message, bolded and underlined until the print of her face runs out of ink: THIS IS IMPORTANT! TAKE ME SERIOUSLY!

(That last person was talking about her classes. You get a cookie if you guess her major.)

Have you observed any interesting people lately? How do you feel about people watching? Tell us about it in the comments!