A few weeks ago, my family and I went to one of those splash places. I don’t need to name names, but the kind with slides, a lazy river, and other indoor water activities. After my energy wore away, I sat down and watched my children romp around and eventually I watched other people. This is what people in the Midwest call people watching. Now let me make sure we are clear what I mean here. I don’t mean being the fashion police or passing judgement in any way. I mean observing. Carefully.
Sometimes people will catch my eye because they remind me of someone in a book that is presently percolating in my brain. Other times, something about how they move makes me think of specific emotions and I contemplate how I would show that emotion or movement with words. Maybe they have an interesting physical feature that I wonder how I would describe. Then my mind starts to bounce around in a land of imagined characters. I have to be careful, I can get lost there!
If you haven’t already, try it sometime! While you watch, think of words that describe the way a person looks and how they move. What words would paint a picture for the reader of his/her lips, face, neck, or eyes to give people a strong visual of what you see? Are their movements graceful, quick, or laborious? Go one step further and imagine a life for them. What character traits do you imagine for them? Maybe you notice a person who reminds you of one of the characters in your next novel. Think about how the visual that you offer adds to the character that you’re creating.
The same can be done with settings. Take some time soaking up different settings that you have visited. What words would be best to give someone a sense of the place? What did it look, smell, and sound like?
The next time you’re sitting somewhere public with a free moment, put the phone down, and take a look around. Let your imagination wander with your eyes. Now, don’t get caught staring too long at people or someone will sound the stalker alert, but at times it’s important for a writer to spend some time engaged in observation. Just be careful not to get caught!
How do you explore character or setting and ways of describing them? What helps feed your creativity?