The Epic Pastime of People Watching – Everything a Novelist Used to Need


Did you ever participate in the epic pastime of people-watching? It’s when you sit back and take in your fellow human beings, observing what they say and how they say it; what they do and how they do it.

Honestly, it’s everything a novelist needs to create a realistic set of characters with realistic-sounding dialogue. That is, it used to be.

Back in the day, when I was young and cell phones were still of the flip variety, there seemed to be a lot more readily recognizable opportunity for people-watching. Whether it was lounging on an available bench for a brief rest at the mall or chowing down on a Classic Beef ‘N Cheddar sandwich at a fast-food joint, you just sat back and let the conversations wash over you.

The most entertaining types to encounter were typically the teens: the middle school and high school children who thought they were so worldly and knowledgeable. Their entertaining delusions came out in the way they walked and how they dressed and their espoused worldviews about complex topics… as well as topics they thought were complex.

These days, of course, people don’t physically talk to each other nearly so often. The malls aren’t as crowded thanks to online shopping. And while fast-food joints are still a‘plenty, they’re a whole lot quieter now thanks to everyone being on their smartphones.

Then again, I suppose we can get at least some of our character profiling from online sources. Facebook, for example, is a definite psychological source for fascination, filled with delusions and denials and people pointing fingers at others away from their own questionable doctrines.

I’m not picking on anyone in particular – neither individual people nor political parties nor existing ideologies. But I’ve unfollowed a lot of Facebook friends over the last year because they refuse to see any side of anything outside of their own.

Oh-so-smug in their posted certainties and their long list of likeminded friends who tell them how wise and correct and valuable their opinions are, they’re quick to point out how everyone else is wrong instead of considering that they might possibly be wrong themselves.

It’s not entertaining anymore when those attitudes are espoused by grown-ups instead of silly teens.

The way I see it, there’s very little valuable input given these days. Just a lot of poorly thought-through affirmations that are tearing this country and the larger world apart.

I’d love to copy some of the delusions I’ve seen over the last few weeks alone, but that could start some fights I don’t have the energy for. That is, on the off-chance that these people read anything but their own dogma.

Regardless, they essentially go like this:

“Oh no! Somebody somehow challenged me on my beliefs! Let me post something to vilify them and emphatically state that I won’t listen to any opinions other than those that agree with me!”

or

“Oh no! Someone somehow challenged me on my beliefs! Let me immediately justify myself by telling them why I’m right and they’re wrong without first wondering if maybe it’s the other way around!”

With those kinds of close-minded conversations taking place, no wonder we’re out fighting each other in the streets. It makes perfect sense that it’s Democrat against Republican, liberal against conservative, black against white, woman against man, and every other which way. What else do we expect?

If this is what people-watching has come to, then maybe novelists shouldn't rely on it for inspiration anymore. Otherwise, we're bound to produce some really depressive novels.

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