Thursday, October 4, 2007

Learning People By Inches

Working in a bar is just like reading a book.

You open a book and see a character doing something, or thinking something, and you start building who that person is in your mind, sentence by sentence, page by page. Unless the author is very lazy, they don't lay out the character all in one go, and you don't get all the answers about who this character is right away.

Someone walks into the bar. Maybe the bartender greets them by name, maybe the person walks in as part of a couple or a group. They order their drink(s), sit and chat (or read a book) and bit by bit, I get an idea of who they are. I don't always like to ask questions, unless I'm making chitchat, because it's more fun to see what you can overhear. For instance, a gal today mentioned the time, then said "So it's 11:00 Florida time," so I'm guessing she's just visiting, and so it goes.

It's a lot like what the Eavesdropping Writer gal does, but in this case there are people who keep coming back. After a while, the eavesdropping and casual comments add up and I know that Rod works at the convention center, makes great barbeque, has a wife named Alice... Of course, working in a bar also gives a great opportunity for learning about people through how they tip, too. At this point, I'm pretty good at guessing how a given person/table will tip. Coincidentally, people who enthusiastically tell the bartender/server how good of a tipper they are often tip poorly.

The often little things they do are what add up to make a character, or a person.

So, let me ask: How often do you find yourself playing the game of watching people and putting together the bigger picture of who they are based on the small things you can directly observe? Do you usually find your first impressions of people hold true? What kinds of things stick out to you during first impressions? What are the first things you notice when you meet someone new? How does all this relate to your writing?

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