I’m a people-watcher. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life and a significant proportion of my childhood being a people-watcher, or more specifically a people-analyser. On the occasions I find myself in a park or at a train station I play a game; make up a story about someone who walks past (stick with me). I base it on their clothes, the speed of their walk, whether they’re looking around or glued to their phone. Whether they’re on their own, or with someone, old, young or in-between. Where have they come from? Where are they going? What will they have for tea? Do they own a pet? I can while away hours doing this (it’s now called research, obvs).
It happens in my life too. If someone says ‘don’t worry about it, it was no bother,’ I wonder was it really no bother? Are you saying this because it was a bother but you’re speaking through gritted teeth because social etiquette dictates you say it? Is there a message behind the words? I look for people’s motivations for saying what they’ve said. Perhaps they’ve got something going on in their life that’s made them act out of character or else why would they hold that opinion. In the media, it’s often important to understand people’s echo chambers as a context for why they are saying what they’re saying. Putting people in their context is hugely important to me, and it possibly contributes to my introvert tendencies to watch and assess rather than jumping straight in. In everyday life, this kind of analysing is exhausting, but as a writer, it sets you free. As a writer it enables you to see the world from your character’s perspective.
Creating characters can be technical at first – height, colouring, tendencies but once you put your character into a situation, and if you’re lucky, a little magic happens. You realise that your character would act a certain way or say a certain thing; your pen and paper character is now alive. Only writers understand when you talk about your characters as if they are flesh and blood, and I can’t be the only one who has received raised eyebrows from friends when I’ve said a story wasn’t going well because the characters wouldn’t do as they were told.
My current project is a teen story and when my agent and I decided that it’d work best from four viewpoints, I gulped at the challenge. But despite it requiring more planning than I usually do, I had totally underestimated how much fun it would be to head-hop. To create characters and get them to interact. To finally know what everyone’s thoughts and motivations are. I started out feeling hopelessly under-qualified, but I’ve realised I have a lifetime’s people-watching to draw on. At last, all those hours of watching and wondering are coming in handy.