As writers we often make observations of other people to help inform our craft. I like to people-watch whenever I get the opportunity – standing in a queue, waiting for a train (which is happening more and more frequently of late), or even sat at my window peering over my neighbourhood. These snippets of time allow me a great deal of insight into how people behave. The way they stand, if they fidget, and their quickening facial expressions. I don’t know if it’s the writer in me, but I can’t help putting thoughts in their minds when I observe people like this; I have no idea what their true situation may be, yet I can easily make one up.
Still, despite this habit of mine, I very rarely consider what others may observe of me if they were to turn their gaze my way. Would they see a woman in a rush, because of my long, confident strides; or a day-dreamer, lost in the thoughts beyond the furrowed brow? Even now, as I type, I wish I could see what someone else would see if they were looking this way: my pursed lips, slightly narrowed eyes and square-set shoulders, the distant sound of tapping keys as I write the new bestseller*…A pause, then a slight smile, perhaps a bittersweet sigh. Would my observer perhaps consider me a romantic, sat here at my desk writing romance novels*?
We so often look out at the world that we forget it is looking right back at us. Certainly as a writer, using my skills to scrutinise others, I have rarely considered how another author might describe me during their own people-watching time. I’d like to think they’d make me into a strong character, someone who has struggled but fought to get out of the other side; not a weak woman, whose indecisiveness has led her to live a life she isn’t quite sure she really wants.
Perhaps these are the characters we really write – the ones we do and do not want to be. The observations we make of others allow us to hide them beneath facades and behaviours uncommon to ourselves, yet ultimately the inner workings are surely all our own. They are, after all, imaginations from our own mind. Imagine writing a novel where you made all those decisions you never really considered before – the ones you were too afraid or ashamed to make – what kind of novel would that be? What kind of character might you turn out to be in the end?
So the next time I’m out and I have a momentary interlude in my day, rather than watch the people around me, perhaps I’ll reflect on what it is I am currently portraying to the world; am I the me that I want to be? Or could someone write me differently?
(*fiction comes so naturally, I can barely see a world where my writing is considered ‘romance’)
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