Monday, May 21, 2012

Writers' Tools -- People Watching

I spent the last two days with the Southern Indiana Writers Group at an outdoor family fair. Vendors of arts, crafts, snacks, cottage-industry products, and plants set up booths around the Howard Steamboat Museum in Jeffersonville, Indiana. They also have Authors' Row, where local authors and publishers hawk their wares.

It's a great place to people-watch. They pass, in all shapes and sizes and varieties of clothing. Sometimes they linger by our booth, where we offer nearly 20 years worth of our group's anthologies, covering themes from dragons (DRAGON: OUR TALES) to the far future (FUTURE PERFECT (TENSE IN SPACE)). It's always interesting to see who is attracted to which covers, who thumbs through which book, who buys what.

GHOSTS ON THE SQUARE ... AND ELSEWHERE always garners a lot of attention, and often leads to an exchange of spooky experiences. Since the stories are set in Corydon, Indiana, it often also leads to conversations of the "My people are from ... Do you know ... We lived in the house across from ..." variety, which are my meat. One of our buyers on Saturday was the guy one of our daughters bought her house from, and who taught all our kids and oldest grandson in high school.

Then there are the people we stop, so we can ooh and aah over their shirts or hats or tattoos or dogs or babies.

But it isn't only the ones who stop who are material for stories and characters. One woman passed who will definitely have a story; I've already started it.

If you're a writer: Please, never be bored! The people around you are each the main character in his or her own story. Each is a character -- main character or bit character -- in other people's lives. And, no matter how long you've known any person, the story you "know" is not the story they live. On top of that, there are an infinite number of stories that would be possible. An infinite number of possible futures, just given what you know (or think you know) about each person.

Today, I get to take my mother's cat to the vet. I can hardly wait to see who happens.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes


Gwynneth White said...

People watching is one of the joys of life, but sometimes we can forget that all that diversity is there for us to pick and choose from ... our personal grocery store of ideas. Thanks for the post. I hope he trip to vet is profitable!

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Great post, Marian, and I've done my share of people watching too while displaying books at various events. Every once in awhile, someone comes along with an amazing story to tell. I do my best to encourage them to write it down. After all, that's what it's all about! Our shared experiences, memories, triumphs, and challenges.