How to People Watch Without Being Rude

How do the ideas for characters come to life for you?

For some of us, they show up full formed  and ready to be written. For others, like me, we have the basic concept but need some help fleshing them out. A good way, and classic one, to help with it is to go people watching.

Though you can appear to be creepy to the people you observe, people watching can be useful. But only if done correctly. So how do you people watch without seeming intrusive? It’s easier than it sounds.

Don’t Stare too Long

99.9% of the time, if you stare at someone for more than a few seconds, the person will become uncomfortable and suspicious of you. So mainly try to look for no longer than 10 – 15 seconds before looking away. Just long enough for you to pick up a couple good features that you may want to use.

Use Caution

Always be cautious when people watching because people will react differently if they feel they are being watched.

Be Polite

Though this a common important rule for life, it needs to be especially the case when people watching. If you see someone that would be a great character reference, try a quick character sketch. But if you want to take a picture, ask them for permission first. If they say no, put down the camera, DO NOT TAKE A PICTURE. Simply thank them for their time and walk away.

Go Beyond Watching, Talk to People

Everyone has a story and it’s important. Go to your local bar and talk to some of the regulars there. Ask questions and ask permission to take notes if you are going to. Some of the most interesting stories I have ever heard were from the old men still sitting there at last call.

Moral of the story? Just don’t be a creeper. People are more likely to help if you are polite, and humanity itself is an amazing source for inspiration.


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