People watching is one of my favourite hobbies, giving them a name, a history, a present and a future. I've done it since I was a teenager, when I first started writing and it's something that's stayed with me ever since.
We went for a walk in the forest today, with the dogs, haven't been there for many years, and was amazed at how popular it was at 11am in the morning. The temperature was only a few degrees above freezing but the children's play areas were busy with laughing kids and smiling parents.
There were people of all shapes and sizes, wearing all sorts of clothing, arriving in a wide variety of cars, along with a myriad of canine companions and it made me think about how children and animals can add to or detract from the characters and plot of a story. What does a child or an animal tells us about our hero or heroine?
Is the agoraphobic lady who lives alone with lots of cats just a lonely old spinster or is she a former model, disfigured in an accident, unable to face the world? Is the single man who walks his dog at precisely the same time every day along the same route obsessive compulsive or is he retracing the last steps of his partner who disappeared without a trace?
Does the young woman with three children, obviously by different fathers, have loose morals or is she looking after her sister's children whilst she undergoes treatment for a life threatening illness?
We're all guilty of making snap judgements about people just from how they look, what they wear, what they drive, where there live, what they do. Our readers do the same thing, only their impression comes from the words we choose to draw our characters with.
So whilst passing the time of day people watching, whether it's the person in the car next to you in the traffic jam, or the people sitting at the table next to you at lunchtime, or the person ahead of you at the checkout, file your judgements away, as you never know when they might come in useful.