Monday, May 2, 2011

Ideas For Writers Are Everywhere...Even At The Food Court

Writers are an odd breed. We listen to other people's conversations, not to join in, mind you, but to capture the words, the natural rhythm. We're endlessly curious and can string together more "Why?" questions than a four-year-old...only to follow with a string of "How do you...?" And writers stare. Not rude, wide-eyed staring, but we observe with a stare that studies, catalogs, picks out details. A book for beginning writers that I read long ago suggested that this Observational Staring (OS) can be practiced like any other skill. The wonderful thing about OS is that it requires no special equipment, no money. Just a keen use of all five senses and a discerning mind.

And skilled OS leads to great book ideas.

So the other day I'm sitting at the Food Court in the local shopping mall waiting for a friend. I decide that since I'm early, it's a good time to practice OS and get the senses engaged. Here's what I gathered during my impromptu OS. Let's see how many book ideas get generated from just a few minutes.

The first thing I notice is the noise. Voices, footsteps, sizzling from the grill, all of this bounces and echoes off the high ceiling, hard floors and tables and chairs of metal and laminate. The chair under me is rock-hard, cold and uncomfortable in the extreme. Clearly, the designers want no lingerers. Eat fast and run off to shop. That's the message.

I see an overweight man with thinning gray hair and eyeglasses a few tables over, one large hand cupped around a paper dish of Häagen Daas and steadily spooning the ice cream into his mouth with the intensity of a child digging a hole on the beach.

A piercing, high whistle cuts the air. Two African-American toughs and a young White female in a pencil-thin, stretchy navy skirt turn sharply. Across the court, a young Asian man waves. Moments later there are fist bumps, quick guy hugs. Friends, it seems. Or something else?

An Hispanic family of five makes its way across the court to the broad walkway of the mall. The young children dash to the double-layered bank of coin-operated candy dispensers. The elder pre-teen girl looks bored. Dad finds some coins as the young ones take time choosing their treat. Mom gives the pre-teen a one-armed hug which the girl shakes off.

At this point, my internal "Why?" is working overtime along with my story weaver. What are the stories here? What if...?

Just another day in the writer's idea mill, at work even at the Food Court.


Sarita said...

Love these observations. Thanks for sharing them with us. It's funny to "see" what others observe. I do this constantly, and have to try hard not to stare at strangers.

Great post!

Beate Boeker said...

Besides being so useful for books, OS also makes us more aware of our surroundings (as opposed to being busy with ourselves :-) ) and less bored. Now waiting for something is a treat, not a punishment anymore. Hurray - time to study things in detail. A great post, LaVerne! Thank you.

Carolyn Brown said...

Wonderful post! Isn't it amazing that most folks never, ever practice OS. They are missing out on so much fun!

LaVerne St. George said...

I also carry one of those little spiral notebooks with me so I can write down the OS experiences that I think have some "lift" for me. Keeps the writer juices flowing even if I'm between projects. Keep on practicing!

Carolyn Brown said...

LaVerne: I stole your OS idea for a blog. Just thought I'd better 'fess up so you wouldn't send the local cops out to arrest me (I haven't checked into the legalities of copyright laws on ideas)! Thank you for a GREAT idea. I appreciate it greatly and did give you credit for it in one of my comments!

Carolyn Brown said...

Oh, and one more are free to steal any of my blog ideas in payment for the OS idea! LOL