Since the stories I write include characters who are not 100% me (surprising, I know), I occasionally need to do some reasearch to figure out how they might think or act. One of my favorite ways to do this involves shamlessly eavesdropping while standing in line, sitting in a restaurant, or just walking down the street.
That’s not weird, right?
I have a little notebook that’s always in my purse, just in case I encounter someone who says or does something that I think might be perfect for some as-yet-to-be-thought of story. The quickly jotted down notes have been helpful on occasion, but more frequently have been a source of amusement as I attempted to decipher what I could have possibly thinking of when I wrote them.
Here are three examples of random bits of information I’ve picked up while out and about:
While having brunch at my favorite French bistro, I was seated next to (far too close to) a young man and a woman (his girlfriend, perhaps) and a set of parents. The young man was talking about his recent job-searching efforts and my coffee cooled while I shamelessly eavesdropped. HIs thought processes – expressed at length and in a completely oblivious manner – were so contrary to what my own were at that age that I was fascinated. It certainly helped me understand why the folks in our HR department find dealing with a millennial workforce so challenging. Hopefully I’ll find a story for this individual while I can still read my notes, though he’s unlikely to wind up a hero.
Over dinner at that same bistro weeks later, I was seated next to a group of women in the midst of what seemed to be a bridal shower. There was much laughing and talking, as well as a steady supply of champagne. At one point the conversation turned to talk of wedding photographers and how hard it was to find just the right one. Everyone at the table had a story about how much trouble they’d had finding a photographer – not that they were all booked, but that so few had any idea how to photograph women of color. Cell phones were passed around with what I can only guess were examples of “wedding photography failures.” When I mentioned the conversation to a coworker (also of color) she said, “oh, it’s definitely a problem. And don’t get me started on finding someone who can do make-up for women of color.” It was something that, had I not been shamlessly evesdropping, I would never have known. When trying to incorporate diverse characters into my stories, that’s just the kind of detail that I hope will add some realism.
My last bit of eavesdropping occurred out in public as I, and several hundred others, were walking around a local lake as part of a charity event. Though I really wasn’t trying to listen to the men behind me, I was trapped in a slow moving crowd and had little choice. I heard them bemoan their weight-watching efforts, tout the value of food journals, and debate the perfect low-calorie chocolate pick-me-up snack (a 60-calorie bar from Trader Joe’s, apparently). There was some talk of sports and kids for good measure. It was hardly the type of conversation you’d expect from one of the bare-chested brooding heroes that grace many a romance novel cover, but it was authentic and amusing and made them seem very human. I never did turn around to see what the men looked like; I didn’t want reality to clash with the picture that had formed in my head, based on their conversation.
Will I ever use any of these things in a story? Maybe not specifically, but I think paying attention to the people around me, listening to what they say, and watching what they do gives my subconscious mind details to work with as I’m creating new characters.
At least I hope so.
Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
So, are you a “shameless eavesdropper” too? If so, what’s your favorite spot for people-watching (listening)?
I have the same problem as the ladies of colour – as a pale-skinned redhead, most makeup artists just give me a bright red lipstick, yellow-toned foundation, bronzer and smokey eyes that looks, frankly, terrifying!
Many of the makeup artists in stores here in Australia for some unknown reason are southern European, and while perfectly lovely ladies, just reproduce their makeup on the intended victim. I actually think that’s a general problem in life – we tend to put our problems and our desires on others, without stopping to ask or even think what they might need.
Your terrifying eyes made me snort-laugh. For my second wedding (there have been 3, if anyone is counting and the third time actually was the charm) I let someone do my makeup so that I’d look “exotic.”. I also had braces (mid-life braces)at the time. They are truly horrifying.
I feel your pain. I may not be a pale-skinned redhead, but I’ve definitely felt like an “intended victim” on the few instances where I had make-up professionally done. Your point that “we tend to put our problems and desires on others” is spot on.
I would love to be a shameless eavesdropper, but I had an “event” in my right ear a few years ago and my hearing is no longer good enough to support that.
Maybe it’s time to explore hearing aids.
Hearing aids could aid in eavesdropping but, if my relatives are any indication, you’d wind up hearing far more than you wanted to hear. My mom was notorious for turning hers off.
That’s a good idea!
That story about the difficulty of finding a photographer or make up artist for a person of color is really interesting. I knew make up could be a problem in “the old days,” although with the availability of make up for all skin tones these days, I would’ve thought that make up artists would have that under control. But photographers? Astonishing they can’t get that lighting right.
Right? I was surprised by the photographer thing too – in this day and age – but then I looked at the ID badges for my coworkers (of color) and the photos from a recent event we hosted, and could definitely see the problem.