People-Watching Makes Great Writers

Discover What You've Been Missing

When I was a little girl, I spent lots of time with my grandpa. Besides making and eating apple pies and playing pinocle (and so much more), there was another activity we enjoyed together–watching people. Sitting and waiting for Grandma and my mom to finish shopping, Grandpa and I would create stories for all the people we saw going by. We’d imagine what they could be talking about or thinking–where they were going and where they had been. Grandpa had a great sense of humor and always had me laughing about the adventures of these everyday folks. Some were recurring characters like “the detective” a fellow we saw almost weekly, popping up in the Beatrice mall or the fast food place called the Arctic Circle.

This people-watching was a wonderful springboard for my imagination. And, it can work  for you, too.

Depending on how closely you look, you can find what’s beautiful and what’s ugly inside each of us. Are we generous or stingy, compassionate or cold-hearted, intelligent or moronic, high-energy or reserved, dependable or self-absorbed? So many qualities that we all possess to one degree or another.

Why is it sometimes hard to flesh out our fictional characters? How can we, as authors, make our heroes and villans come alive and spring off the page?

One of the easiest and most entertaining ways to explore character development is through people-watching. Do yourself a favor and let creativity unfold before you. Coming up with a nearly endless source of inspiration for your writing has never been so much fun.

1. What do I need?

All you really need is a pen and paper (or if you prefer a laptop). You may choose to people-watch on your own or invite someone along to spring ideas off one another.

2. Where should I go?

Hey, go wherever you want to go. As long as you’re out and about, you’ll find people. Take the time to notice them.

You might want to try a place where people are socializing like a coffee shop, a concert, a softball game.

Visit places you might not otherwise go. Isn’t variety the spice of life?

You can even people watch at locations that occur in your book. So, if you’re writing a scene that takes place in a subway, keep your senses pealed for inspiration on your daily commute.

3. Use your senses

If you want to excel at people-watching, use all your senses. Don’t limit yourself by any single one. This will make your scenes and characters come alive.


  • If you see an interesting person, take note of what you find interesting–how they carry themselves, how they smile or frown, do they look confident or uncomfortable, bone structure and girth, clothing. Let your eyes soak in the details and jot it down right away.

Be sure not to gawk, though. Be a ninja, and be respectful. Don’t draw attention to yourself or make your subject uncomfortable.


  • What does someone’s voice sound like? Is it deep or soft, what kind of cadence do they have, what about accents?
  • Maybe you can catch a word or a phrase that will inspire a scene.


  • Please don’t lick your subject!
  • But what you can do, is try some local cuisine. In a coffee shop, a bar, or restaurant? Order something you’d never choose.
  • If you’re writing a scene that takes place in a greasy diner, then try some biscuits and gravy. People-watching in a location that exists in a scene you’re working on can be inspirational. Soak up the flavors your characters might experience.


  • Again, you might not want to come up and take a big whiff of someone. The outcome, let’s say, could be unpredictable.
  • What you could do is take note of any scents you detect as they walk bye. Maybe you can describe the smell of the location. What does the beach, the park, or the street corner smell like? Pleasant or not, mine it like gold.

4. Use your imagination

Like I did with my grandpa in the description above, use your imagination to develop conversations and scenarios that could be unfolding right before your eyes. This can be a lot of fun, so I would recommend bringing along another creative person who doesn’t mind being a little silly and just see what kinds of scenarios unfold before you.

You might find a little something that will inspire a scene, a chapter, or maybe even an entire book. Either way, it’s loads of fun and you should give it a try. If nothing else, it might just help get those creative gears turning again in your head.

Let me know if you found this helpful or if you’ve had success with past experiences with people-watching. I’d love to hear from you!

If you want to know more about how to find inspiration for your writing, check out my Top 10 Ways to Find Inspiration post.

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