Stalking All Your Friends

Confession. I’m a people watcher. But not in a creepy way. If you want to be a writer, you should be, too.  Really, it’s just a form of research.

Today’s question: how to decide what characters will look and act like.

I study body language, facial expressions, and reactions to certain situations. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to write a good friend into a story as a character. It’s just a way for me to learn how to get realistic emotion, actions, and gestures and lift characters off the page.  

I have a good reason for doing this.  I’m trying to find specific details to throw in as action or emotional beats.  It gets pretty boring to read a sequence of dialogue that’s all he-said/she-said.  This site explains the concept well:

For example:

“It’s going to rain,” he said.

“I know,” she said.


But, if I add a sentence to have the character interact with something in the setting or make some kind of facial expression or gesture, it paints a clearer, more interesting picture.

“It’s going to rain.”  He reaches into the closet and grabs an umbrella.

She wrinkles her nose.  “I know.”  

Maybe not the most eloquent example, but hopefully the idea is clear.  I’m always watching my friends, family, colleagues and neighbors for those natural reactions to replace speech tags and add a layer of interest and truth to the story.

Sometimes I’ll see a picture that prompts a physical description.  Usually, I use celebrity pictures for that because there are several different images from different angles in good lighting.  Find someone that you can imagine would play your character in a movie, and describe their traits.  This is important, because there are certain traits that are too rare to be believable.  I guess it’s the biology teacher in me–I know the laws of genetics, and I want to write what is most realistic.

For example, it’s unusual to find a red haired person with blue eyes.  So, if I’m writing a red-headed character, I might check out the eyes of a few red-haired friends to see what color is most common.

I also pay close attention to pictures of places.  When people post pictures of their beach vacations, meals, restaurants, churches–those are all great resources to describe a setting, especially if it’s a place I’ve never been.  

I love following people on Pinterest.  There are nice pictures of living room furniture, etc. that help a lot with description.  

The point is, if you want to write about real-life or even fantasy, you have to observe life as it happens.  Be aware of your surroundings and take note of the different ways people interact.  It;s a good idea to employ who, what, when, where, why and how on occasion, or to ask how something or someone smells, feels, tastes, sounds, or looks.

I bet I’m going to get some funny looks next time I see some of you guys.

Upcoming: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

About monicamynk

I'm a Christian, wife, mother, and high school science teacher, and author of the Cavernous Trilogy and Goddess to Daughter Series.

Posted on January 7, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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