Saturday, March 28, 2009


by Suzanne

Have you ever people watched? Just sat on one of the benches at the mall and watched the crowd? It's fascinating. You never know what you'll see.

There's always the harried mother of at least three small children, trying to get her shopping done without losing a child or her mind. Sometimes they take the time to sit and regroup. Maybe a bottle or a drink, or a wipe of a runny nose. Maybe time to soothe tears or give a hug.

There's often the fashionably dressed woman in heels, bustling
through the crowd, her heels tapping out a warning to more sedate walkers to get out of her way. Since I don't wear heels and makeup to go to the mall, these women always amaze me. I wonder if they're on a lunch or dinner break from work.

If you go early enough on a weekday, something I get to do having days off during the week, you'll see the senior crowd. Often white-haired women in groups of two or more in sweats walking the perimeter of the mall as fast as they can, chatting as they go. Sometimes it's a family member pushing a wheelchair of the elderly, or a couple holding hands as they slowly window shop.

There's usually a few groups of teens milling about. Some are in to fashion--to the extreme--sporting fashion labels that I certainly can't afford. Others are into their own kind of fashion--pierced facial features, spiked hair, dog collars. Even those into extreme Goth. Funny how you can watch these groups and be surprised which ones are the most curteous, while others aren't. (Usually not who you would've thought.)

Which brings me to the point of this blog. People watching. It's what writers do. Everyone has a story. My RWA chapter sold tee shirts and mugs a few years back with the saying. WARNING: What you do may appear in my next book. I had mine at work until someone broke it. Hmmm, wonder if that was the next person I meant to kill off in a book? (This is the tote bag with the same slogan available at

Watching people lets me think, "What is that person's story?" Is the Goth kid rebelling against society or really a serial killer waiting to happen? Is the harried business woman trying to buy a power suit with her last few dollars in order to make a good impression on a much-needed new job? Have the older couple walking the mall been happily married, or does one of them have a secret they've hidden from the other for fifty years?

How about you? Do you ever people watch? Do you ever make up your own stories about people you observe?


limecello said...


limecello said...

Oh wow! I got the GR on a terrible hotel connection in Madison, WI!
As for people watching... not so much that, as overhearing strange conversations. And *that* can be fodder for stories. :)
Or... random things like - I guess grocery stores, or the court house. O_o. Haha, I wonder what a people watcher would say about me...

jo robertson said...

Great topic, Suzanne. I love to watch people and make up scenarioes about them. Wonder if a young couple has just had a spat or a mother's going to lose sight of one of her children. People watching makes you realize you really don't know people at all, what's behind the facade most of us show the world.

Jane said...

Congrats on the GR, Limecello.

I people watch on the subway all the time. I look at how they're dressed and try to guess if they're heading to work. I also people watch on the street and department stores and check out people's clothes(shoes, purse, coat.)

PinkPeony said...

Hi Suzanne! I love the mug idea.

I'm an avid people watcher. When I was a kid, my mom used to nudge me and tell me not to stare at people.

Favorite places to people watch... the long line at Costco or Trader Joe's. I check out what everyone's got in their cart as it provides some clue into their life and I make up stories about them. The quart sized milk, one packet of chicken, two cans of small veg, and a pint of ice cream in a basket tells me that person is likely single.

Observing what people wear is almost as fun. I've noticed women with teenaged daughters dressing like their daugthers. Some of them can pull it off, while everyone has the body type to wear the "In Look" but that doesn't stop some women. Remember "Glamour Don'ts"? Lots of retro looks coming back but you know they say...if you were old enough to wear it the first time, chances are you're too old to wear it again. (I still have my pairs Bare Traps..not that I'd ever wear them again.)

Congrats on Le Coq, Limecello!

Anna Campbell said...

Limecello, AGAIN???!!!

Suz, great post. I think as writers we're inveterate people watchers. Because I don't drive, I catch a lot of public transport. Or at least I used to - these days, working from home it's not quite so much but still enough to feed my addiction. You really see all types catching trains and buses. Where I lived in Sydney (near Kings Cross), it was absolutely fascinating. There was the nightclubbing crowd and the people who lived there and quite a lot of glitterati like models and actors. And tourists. I find tourists endlessly interesting to watch. Perhaps it's because I love fish out of water stories.

I also find airports really interesting. I could so relate to the start of Love Actually where he talks about hanging around airports and seeing so much emotion.

Christine Wells said...

Hi Suz! I think as writers we all people-watch and make up stories about them, don't we? One of the most memorable examples was a group effort, when I was camping with dh and friends and we had a run-in with the ranger over collecting our firewood instead of bringing it with us to a remote part of a sand island. It was either race the rising tide back to the house along the beach in the dark or eat cold tinned food for dinner. We had a great time creating an entire legend about what that ranger did, all alone in the lighthouse where he lived. The story kept growing wilder and more hilarious as our holiday went on.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Good morning or night, depending on your location!! hey Limecello, you and that bird getting married or something?

Suzanne Welsh said...

An eavesdropper, huh, Limecello? I'd say we people watchers would think you were a spy or maybe a cop doing survellence work!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey Jo!

I inherited the people watching from my mom. She used to let us wander in a store at the mall as teens while she sat outside the store watching people. She always thought their stories as fascinating.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey Jane! When I was in New York and Chicago, (one trip each so far) I rode both the subway and the EL with the express interest in people watching.

In Chicago it was early November, and in the mornings we would see groups of young women climbing on to ride the train to work. They had warm coats and leather bags, and pointy-toed shoes, (as my neice called them). But their mittens came apart at the top so their fingers could stick out to hold their cups of hot coffee!! I thought that was ingenious! And then I wished I had some hot chocolate, too.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey PinkPeony!

You should try people watching in a mall in Texas! We have people of all nationalities. REAL cowboys, complete with jeans, boots and stetsons. Punk rockers. Blondes with big hair. Then the every day people. Too fun!

I have to confess, that one of my favorite places to people watch is in hospital cafeterias and waiting rooms. Amazing the stories I can make up with people under stress all about!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey Anna!

Can I come people watch in Sidney with you? Please?? and then I could be like Limecello, and listen to people talk, too! You KNOW how much I love accents!!

Suzanne Welsh said...

oooooooooo, Christine, did her turn into some sort of crazed serial killer who preyed on individuals who stole his wood instead of bringing their own? hehehe

PinkPeony said...

Suzanne...I always thought the "big hair" in Texas was really a myth.

One fantastic place to people watch is Las Vegas. I've seen people doing things I didn't need to see so it sure makes me wonder what the cops there see on a daily basis. It would make a good story.

Helen said...

Limcello he does love you have fun with him.

Great post Suz I am not a writer so I don't make up stories about people I see but I do love watching people when I am out and about when seeing young Mums with their kids I always think back to my days of taking 4 little kids to the shops or on trips, so I guess for me people watching brings back memories and makes me think about time to come if hubby and I will be holding hands while shopping in our much older years or maybe we will be holding hands to support each other while we shuffle around.

I agree though for me people watching makes me think.

Have Fun

Margay said...

I am definitely a people watcher. I am fascinated by people and what their lives are like, which is one of the reasons I love to write so much. I think I have always played the game of creating my own stories around the people I observe.

Caren Crane said...

Suz, I LOVE to people watch! I was at the airport yesterday evening to pick up double GH-finalist Liz Bemis (yes, she's here with me!) and noticed the different sorts of greetings people got from waiting family and friends.

A heartwarming welcome for a returning soldier from his obviously overwhelmed family.

A stilted welcome between mother and barely-grown, professional-looking daughter. These two were right next to me and within 30 seconds of their greeting, the daughter was telling the mother she had to get on the road in a short time on her way somewhere else. Mother was not pleased. I was dying to know their story!

I definitely use these "snapshot" moments in my writing. Sometimes as a jumping-off point and sometimes to use a line I heard someone say or a funny physical situation. Life's rich pageant is an infinite resource for fiction writers!

Louisa Cornell said...

Who is in charge of the wedding shower for Limecello and the GR? Do we have to invite all of those chickens?

I think most writers are people watchers and/or listeners. I think the people I am forced to watch at Wal-Mart are the reason I write historical romance! Shudder!

I catch myself wondering what happens to those people after they leave my sight. Malls, airports and train stations are great places to watch people. I saw quite a few great characters when I was in San Francisco and there is something very poignant about thinking about the lives of people you only see for a moment.

Suzanne Welsh said...


Some of the Dallas big hair has deflated over the years, but there are still some die-hard believers out there! Trust me on that!!

Add to it the fashionable dress and extra jewelry just for a trip to the mall, and I really have a good time making up stories to go with them.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey, Margay!

Next to co-workers and eccentric family members, I think people watching is my best source of fodder for characters.

We had our car broken into two weeks ago, and the officer who came to our house will deffinitely find himself in a future book!! Oh mama!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey, Caren!! Hey, Liz....waving madly!

I'm thinking the mother-daughter-almost-reunion would be right up your alley, story-wise, Caren. In fact, I can almost hear the little wheels turning at a mad speed already. You and Liz will probably have it plotted before you have to return to the airport!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey, Louisa!

OMG, WalMart. Another fantastic place to people watch...okay, maybe not as an employee, but as a shopper? Definitely!!

My daughter works at a Whole Foods in a very affluent neighborhood in Dallas. (Whooops, she just transferred to another store this week.) Anyways, she always has a story to tell about some shopper's behavior. Let's just say, she will be much happier elsewhere, but I will miss her stories!!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Oh and Pink Peony, those mugs and the tee-shirts....they were GREAT money makers for our chapter!!

Pat said...

I am not a writer but I do love to people watch (much more fun than bird watching)and I do imagine what put them there at that time in my little piece of the world.

Treethyme said...

I love to people watch! It's easier to do in big cities than in a small town, but it's endlessly fascinating. Airports are a great place to people watch, and I always find myself making up stories to go with the people.

So many people I know have had story-worthy things happen in their lives, many of them tragic. I have to watch myself, to make sure I don't let their experiences leak into my stories and invade their privacy. I'd love to write about them, but it wouldn't be right.

I think everyone I meet has a story, and it's always fun to get to know people, in part, to find out what makes them unique.

Great post! And, limecello, now I'm SURE you've got a penthouse filled with Playboy chicks and supermodel chickettes to lure the GR! Or maybe the GR is a Cheesehead, if you're in WI!

Margay said...

Ha! Only a writer would take a situation like that and use it for a story source later!

Joan said...

Who needs NCAA Basketball when you have the sport of people watching?

Ok, so I do because U of L won last night!

Anyway, Suz I love to people watch. I watch less their outward clothing etc., but their facial expressions, tune into their emotions. Airports are primo spots for this and I always wonder what exotic places eveyone is going to and {peering at their face} wonder WHY....

There have been many mysterious secret agents in the airports at the same time as me :-)

Keira Soleore said...

I love to watch people with their convos turned off (if possible). It's always a good day when I see an elderly couple clearly in love with one another and being good to each other is many, small ways. It makes those HEAs in books seem more plausible, more real. That is what I'd like when Hubby and I are that old--the spark, the respect, the affection, the smiles.

Christie Kelley said...

Great blog, Suz. I love to people watch. It's great to watch people's reactions to things happening around them. And as you said, it's great fodder for stories.

Susan Sey said...

Hi, Suz! You nailed one of my guiltiest pleasures--I'm an eavesdropper. I love to snoop into a conversation--especially the ones people hold in tense whispers in public places. Those are fascinating. It's so much fun to chip together the backstory, especially when I can't see the people talking. If they're behind me on the bus or something.

On the other side of the coin, one of my DH's & my favorite pasttimes involves making up the conversation for people we can see but can't hear. Like across a restaurant, for instance, when we can see some interesting body language but can't hear the conversation.

This is going to be one of the things my children tell stories about when they're older. You know, the stories that always start with an eye roll & "Yeah, well, when I was a kid, MY mom used to..." And then they'll tell people about their crackpot mom who always used to shush them & point across a restaurant & say, "Those ones. That couple over there. What do you suppose is going on over THERE?"

But as my sister always says, if you haven't given your kids anything to talk with their therapist about later on, you're just not doing your mom job. :-)

Virginia said...

Congrats limecello again!

I love to watch people, I know when I go to the doctors office I will take a book with me but spend most of my time just watching the people. Same thing in a store. I am really not sure why I enjoy this because I am not an author or anything.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

ACK!!! To whom it may concern, Pat is actually me, Dianna. Apparently my son was signed on.

limecello said...

lol I could've people watched today - I was surrounded by about 80+ suits. But... I didn't. The GR was with me and watched me fail in competition :P Nice.
Likely he'll be leaving me, since the hotel connection is unreliable at best.

Janga said...

I find people watching endlessly fascinating, but I confess to being an inveterate eavesdropper too. One of my best poems started with one line overheard in a restaurant: "I could forgive anything but that."

A college campus is a great place for a romance writer to people watch. :) But I think writers can find story starters anywhere. I have a WIP that started with a glimpse from my car window of a young woman hammering a "For Sale by Owner" sign into the lawn of a house. There was something so forlorn about her isolation and the sign. By the time I reached home, I had the nucleus of my story.

Julia Smith said...

I'm an incurable people watcher and I never mean to stop. I also love looking at residences from the window of a bus or streetcar. I wonder, who lives there? What do they do for a living?

To all of the Romance Bandits - I've got a Sisterhood Award over at my blog with all of your names on it! Could you send someone over to pick it up?

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey, Pat!

Good to see you today!! If you make up stories about the people you watch, you may be a writer and just haven't picked up a pen....YET! :)

Anna Campbell said...

Julia, just checked both blogs that are on your profile and didn't see it. What's the url? As you know, we love awards in the lair!

Suzanne Welsh said...


It is hard not to write other people's experiences into our books, or the people themselves. What I think is challenging is to take their essence and put that into the story, maybe with a twist that helps them grow or learn.

Suzanne Welsh said...

LOL, Joanie on the secret agents at the airport with you.

And I would imagine IF you were at the NCAA tournament you'd find some VERY interesting characters in the crowd! Maybe even a secret agent there, too!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey, Miss Keira!

I haven't gotten to talk to you in a while!

When I see elderly couples, I too, wonder if my hubby and I will be like that, too. I know my parents are starting to get to where they walk together hand-in-hand when they go places. :)

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Very late to the party, because I'm still feeling puny. :-(

But had to comment on your GREAT post, Suz! I do think writers are incurable eavesdroppers and people-watchers. We just can't help ourselves!

I esp. love people watching in foreign countries. Usually I can't understand more than a few words, but some things truly are universal. ;-) Last year when I was in Paris, I sat in the gigantic downstairs lobby of the Louvre and people watched for almost an hour. Boy was it FASCINATING! And it was sooo easy to pick out the Americans... embarrassingly so in many cases.


Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey, Christie!

Stopped at the bookstor, (another great place to people watch), after my DARA chapter meeting today, and saw your newest release!! Snatched up my copy of Every Time We Kiss !

Suzanne Welsh said...

OMG, Susan!!

I do the across the room making up conversations, too! And the more intense their body posture, the more dramatic.

Of course, my woman, she always has ze french accent, and is always over ze top in her anger/snit!

Your kids don't know how lucky they are, do they? hehehe

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey, Virginia!

You try to read in the doctor's waiting room, too? I always take a book to the doctor's, the hospital ER and any other place I might have to wait. And as long as my son isn't with me, I do read.

HOWEVER, my son loves to talk, and talk about the people sitting close by...again the made up stories...(yeah, weird for a guy), so little reading gets done with him nearby. But I have come up with one or two secondary or tertiary characters for books because of him!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey Pat, er Diane!! that your secret agent name, or perhaps you soon to be PEN name?

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey, Janga!

Oooooooo that sounds like a great story start...

Why is she selling the house? What happened to make her so forlorn looking? Can her life get worse if she sells the house? Does she need the money? Does she need to move for work? Does the house hold too many memories? Good or bad ones?

Yes, I can see how your story would blossom from that!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hello Julia Smith!

I don't think I've got to talk to you before. Welcome to the zany place we call the Bandit Lair!

Do you pass different kinds of homes during your travels? Condos, townhouses? Suburban homes? Inner city housing that's in need of demolition? Maybe a restored neighborhood? How about warehouses turned into lofts?

Imagine all the different stories you can come up with from just looking at the buildings and neighborhoods! Almost as cool as people watching.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey, AC!!

Glad to see you coming out of the writer's cave, (that deep dark place Bandit's go in the Lair to create their works of wonder!!).

I've never been out of the country, so I think I'd be one of those embarassing American's you'd see in the Louvre!

Do you know I have a friend who moved to London...and had a baby. Then I had another friend who moved to Paris...and had a baby. They're both L&D nurses, so I can't wait to hear their stories and how different or the same things were. And the people they met!!

Julia Smith said...

Woops! Didn't mean to make the award hard to find - here it is:

Suzanne - I pass all of the above kinds of housing on my bus route, believe it or not. I can't help wondering about who lives there and there and there.

I blog at Popculturedivas with Christine Wells - that's how I found this blog.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

Suzanne Welsh said...
Hey Pat, er Diane!! that your secret agent name, or perhaps you soon to be PEN name?

Nah, I am not a writer, just a reader and a son that doesn't sign off....LOL. Actually I am one of the GR's operatives.

Cassondra said...

Suz, I'm so sorry I missesd this party! And it's about a subject I LOVE--people watching. Yes, I do. I go to the mall and just sit and watch people. Mostly to see what I can learn from their body language? Is she insecure (ALL the younger women are--if they're under 20, they're bent kind of into themselves-- furtive--worried about what everyone else is thinking--sad.) Are they angry, stressed, harried, overwhelmed? It's strange, but you can see all of it just by watching from a distance.

GREAT subject!