Sunday, April 16, 2006

Waiting and Watching

Many of you know that I spend a great deal of time with my daughter and her horses, at lessons, clinics, shows, and on the road. What you may not realize is just how much time I spend doing little or nothing but waiting. Waiting for her ride to start, waiting for her lesson to end, waiting for a traffic light to change green. For that matter, most of the time that I’m driving with or without a horse trailer in tow I consider as waiting – waiting to arrive, and usually waiting to have time to write instead of drive.

So with all this waiting, I have loads of time to watch. And I do! I watch the birds, which often proves distracting when I’m driving. I love to see the hawks swoop and dive after some critter along the roadside or just perched on a power line or fence post. They are so regal and observant. I watch the sunset, the clouds scudding across the sky, or the rising column of smoke from someone’s trash fire. I watch the trees shimmy and dance in the breeze from the traffic on the highway or those standing sentry along a hilltop. My sister reminded me that I should take time to stop and smell the roses. Believe me, I spend a great deal of time sitting on a log or jump, shading my eyes from the sunshine or huddled under an umbrella in the middle of a verdant field experiencing nature! Trust me on that.

What I love most to watch though are the people around me, whether at a show, the airport, a clinic, or conference. How they walk or stand. How they talk with their hands, their eyebrows, their shoulders – oh, and their mouths! Facial expressions are particularly fascinating to me, especially as I try to form a unique phrase in my mind that would capture the expression without it being a clich√©. I try to notice how people are dressed, but the clothing doesn’t capture my attention. It’s the eyes, the stance, the soul of the person that grabs me. (I fell in love with my husband partly because I am captivated by his eyes, which change hue based on his mood, lighting, the day of the week! On certain days, I feel like I could fall into the depths of his eyes and stay there forever.)

I had an interesting discussion with another writer last year about how different people notice different aspects of a person. She related the story of a couple who watched a lady approach their table at a restaurant. He noticed the woman’s face, she noticed her walk. This observation made me realize that when I describe a person in a story it would make sense to completely describe them because the reader will identify with one aspect or another, if not the entire character. Then each reader has an anchor point to connect with a character.

This is not as easy as it sounded in my novice writer’s head! Why? Because I naturally focus on only some features, and those are the ones I write about easily. I have to go back and add in other descriptive details to “round out” my characters.

So my question to you is, what is the first thing you notice about a person when you meet them or see them again?


Carla Swafford said...

I notice their eyes - not necessarily the color - more to see if their eyes are smiling with their lips. Are they looking at me while I talk or they talk? Or are they looking for a way to get away from me? ::g:: Then I notice the way they’re holding themselves. Are they standing straight, leaning on something, their hands down at their sides or waving them as they punctuate each word? It can tell you a lot about them.

But my favorite activity to do while I people-watch is making up stories about them. Where are they going? Where have they been? What kind of life do they lead? I’m sure I make it more exciting then their lives are really. A bit of escapism from our own lives. Isn’t that what all writers do? Is that part of why we write?

Betty said...

Yes! I think that true writers are people that can't stop themselves from playing the "what if" game with people and situations around us each day. I have more story ideas than time to write them, I know that much.