Friday, July 30

Lab Rats and Writing

I work in a restaurant. I have access to hundreds of people on a daily basis.

They're my writing lab rats. They don't know it, and that's probably all for the best eh? Mentioning rats and restaurants in the same sentence is a sure guarantee for things going badly.

But, when you need to study human nature, in order to write, virtually the entire world becomes your oyster. Er, rat. The old couple who come in for supper and hold hands. The couple who came in to discuss their divorce and he left her stranded 60 miles from home with no ride. The family after the funeral. The 8 year old boy with only one front tooth who works soduku puzzles while waiting for his smiley fries.

All of the world can be your class on characterization. The trick is stopping to observe.

I've decided I'm going to have to keep a journal, just some highlights of the day. We're sometimes so busy we can't possibly remember it all, and sometimes things go badly and we don't WANT to remember it all. But when you're looking for that perfect secondary character and you remember the guy who came in for his bachelor party and had such a marvelous sense of humor that almost everyone in the place lined up to buy him a beer? Or the beautiful shy girl who always says please after every request. May I have another Coke, please?

Little bits and snips of their lives can really enhance the characters in your book!

Next time you're out in public, stop for a moment and observe. You'd be surprised at some of the great characters you can pick up.




  1. Great post, Carrie, and one of the most fun things about writing.

    My oldest son (6'6" and charming) was stuck at the airport in--I think it was Minneapolis. There they all were, grumpy and wanting to get home. But Chris plays Trivia at Buffalo Wings where he lives. Before you know it, the flight attendant is handing out pens and paper and he's hosting trivia there on the plane. It made a stuffy, grouchy hour pass quickly. When my daughter-in-law told me the story, I thought I'd like to use it someday.

  2. ...Of course, I won't tell the kid he's by way of being a rat. :-)

  3. I love to go out to eat! Yeah, yeah, I love food, but that's not it! People watching! OMG! What fun! I love to watch the people around me. Working in retail also offers many opprotunities to glimpse all kinds. It's fun, fun.

  4. great post, Carrie! I love people-watching...we live in a resort town with a big amusement park, which we go to often!, and I'm forever watching the people in lines, in the park restaurants (and those in town), the people in the shops...

  5. Yeah, working in retail, you get the same thing. Although, lately, I see more crudmudgenly types than happy, go lucky's. But I guess we use them all when we're writing. Good post.

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  8. I absolutely love people watching.
    Met some great characters at the marina
    while I was on vacation. There was a man
    that played water glasses, a one man
    blues band, a harpist, there was even a
    blind and deaf great Dane named Eureka.
    But out of all of them, my favorite character
    came from a sculpture called "The Awakening"
    It's a giant sculpture of a man rising from
    the ground. I couldn't help but wonder what
    his story was.