Show Me The Money

Remember way back last year when you were Christmas shopping at the mall? Way back, um, last month?

Close your eyes and remember all the people of all ages jammed inside. From tiny new babies nestled in huge strollers to seniors hugging the wall so they can walk at their own pace and stay out of the way of frantic shoppers. Husbands holding bags outside crowded shops. Teens in their own worlds. Harried clerks. The long line for Santa. 

And the noise level. Holiday music, one teen yelling for another ten feet ahead, hundreds of conversations, feet moving along a hard floor, the spike of a baby's cry. We'll talk about sounds another time, but for now they'll serve to keep you in the moment.

Okay . . . got it?

Use it.

Think about all the emotions you witnessed. Happiness. Excitement. Impatience. Fatigue. Maybe arrogance, anger, fear, sadness. And probably a lot more. 

Keep your eyes closed. 

How did you know those people felt those emotions? You didn't talk to them.

You knew by how they expressed it physically.

Think about what you saw. A tapping foot. Repeated looks at a watch. Heads rolling around on shoulders. Bouncing up and down. A perfectly manicured fingernail tapping a glass countertop. Haunted eyes. Clenched teeth. Looking over a shoulder. Smiles.

Take what you see and identify the emotion it expresses while you're people watching anywhere.

You might be surprised by what you see.

And by what you learn.


Colette said…
Great suggestion for an exercise! Love it!
Mason Canyon said…
Love the exercise. I've noticed when I'm in a store, I begin to look at what the people are doing more. The way people express themselves does say a lot without a word.

Thoughts in Progress
Holly Ruggiero said…
The first paragraph had mew stress out all over again! LOL Great advice.
Terry Odell said…
Body language is vital in 'showing' not 'telling'. Doing it effectively so it doesn't bog down the story - there's the challenge. If a simple gesture takes a paragraph to describe, you're not quite there yet.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery
Good advice. And then I need to figure out how to pack the overload of emotion I witnessed into a manuscript – it has to be a sure winner: )
Joanne said…
People-watching, and life itself, is the best inspiration for our writing. There's nothing more fascinating.
Lydia K said…
What a great exercise. I need to do this more when I get to scenes I can't imagine well!
Carol Kilgore said…
Colette - Cool :)

Mason - I find it amazing.

Holly - LOL...I did, too when I wrote this.

Terry - Exactly. Somewhat like backstory in that regard.

Jane - Trial and error. Keep at it.

Joanne - I agree.
Clarissa Draper said…
Posts like this are so important. It helps writers really get into their story, understand their characters.
VR Barkowski said…
Terrific tip! Back in CA, I used to go to the mall, plant myself at an outdoor cafe, observe and take notes. I haven't done that since I've moved to GA. I really should revive the habit.
Talli Roland said…
This is a fantastic exercise, Carol! Love it!
Carol Kilgore said…
Clarissa - It helps me, so I hope it helps others, too.

VR - Go for it!

Talli - Thanks.
Once again, we seemed to have shared a wavelength! My post today is rather similar. I loved this, Carol. Well done.
Arlee Bird said…
I do it all the time--one of my favorite pastimes. I like to try to come up with theories about why people do certain things almost stereotypically. Great observations to apply to our created characters to make them more real.

Tossing It Out
Carol Kilgore said…
Elspeth - HAHAHA! I just came from your blog, where I made a similar comment.

Arlee - People are amazing.
Hart Johnson said…
ACK! Great exercise, but now I need a shoulder rub. MAN shopping stresses me out! And those people who like it are SO ANNOYING!
Stephen Tremp said…
I'm a people watcher, especially when they are standing in line and the line is not moving. Some of the nicest people can really show their ugly side. And in public too!
Teresa aka JW said…
I think we learn so much doing this exercise. I've had someone ask me if I was angry and all I was doing was concentrating. Promise.
Carol Kilgore said…
Hart - I am not a shopper either. Only when necessary.

Stephen - That's so true.

Teresa - I can see that. Concentration often results in a frown or clenched jaw. Probably some other things, too, but those come to the top of my head at the moment.
Very sound advice!

You've got a great blog here :)
Draven Ames said…
Very good and true advice. We are here to report the world. There is so much more than she looked, she saw, she ran, she walked, she talked.
Carol Kilgore said…
Wendy - Thanks for stopping by. You're always welcome Under the Tiki Hut.

Draven - Very true. I appreciate your comments. Come back any time.
Lola Sharp said…
I enjoy people watching way too much.

I hope you are having a lovely week, Carol.

Carol Kilgore said…
I love people watching, too. So far my week is great. I just came from your blog.

Everyone, go read Lola's blog post for today. You won't be sorry.
Jan Morrison said…
great tip, dear person!
Ann Best said…
People watching is great for a writer. I remember how much I did this when I was younger and could get out more. What you "see" here is concrete, the kind of details that bring a piece of writing to life. Excellent!! I've "learned" something, or have been reminded of what I already knew from this post. Thanks!
Carol Kilgore said…
Jan - Thanks.

Ann - I'm glad I reminded you of what you already knew. We all need reminders of all kinds. Especially me :)
Hannah Kincade said…
Such a great exercise for showing and not telling. Thanks.
People-watching is definitely a great tool for writers. My favorite place to observe was always at theme parks like King's Island or Epcot -- there's such a mix of excitement, happiness, exhaustion, crankiness, etc. Enough to write a book. :)