There is one concept–across all art forms–that stays true. The power of Observation. When I was at the Art Institute, one of my very influential teachers was very adamant that we remain constantly observant. Of people, animals, and the general world around us.
His point–concerning drawing and animation–was to learn how people moved, how they stood, how they sat, and their general appearance. We were supposed to be mentally cataloging these people so that whenever we needed to draw something, we could call on these memories and bring believe ability to our work.
And this thought process works precisely the same way for writing. As you go through life you should be constantly watching the world around you. Studying how other humans interact with one another. For instance, a creepy thing I do but love is watching people have hushed arguments in public.
There is something very intense about the situation. Here you have two people trying their best to remain calm, to not make a spectacle, but they want to scream and shout and get red in the face. Watching that pent up anger is very fascinating to me.
Weird, I know, but go to a mall sometime and sit in the food court. People watching will be one of the best exercises you can do as a writer. Find someone of interest and start making a back story for them. Why are they wearing the clothes they are wearing? Are they in a hurry? Why? Before you know it, you’ll have a character sitting in your mind bank ready to go.
One day my brother and I were at lunch. We sat down at a Bar-B-Que restaurant and looked over the standard meals. Sliced Pork Platter. Pulled Pork Platter. BBQ Chicken and slaw. When our waiter came up to get our drink orders.
And he was Indian.
It was incredible. Here we have two worlds crashing together. Two cultures that are incredibly different from one another. So then the big question comes, what brings that guy to work there? Is it a second job? Maybe he just really likes BBQ. Or he’s a recent immigrant that’s actually a doctor, lawyer, or programmer, waiting to get whatever certification he needs to get back to his true love in life.
Observation can be that step that hurtles you to the next level. Working on it. Start opening your eyes and watching everyone and everything around you. So that next time you’re stumped for a name, face, or place, you’ll have a flash back to that afternoon eating BBQ with your Indian waiter.