I know I’m not alone when I say that I enjoy people-watching. Not in a sketchy hiding-in-the-bushes sort of way, but in the hey-look-at-those-people-I-wonder-what-their-story-is kind of way. Many writers will say that they are inspired just from sitting quietly and observing the people around them.
Lately, I’ve started people-watching in another form: rather than physically observing people in real life, I read about their lives through a computer screen. It sounds like cyber-stalking when I describe it, but it’s not (the main difference is that this information is public and easily accessible).
Basically, I scroll through the “Personal Life” forums on AbsolutePunk. It’s an odd habit and I’m not sure how/why I started when I don’t even have an AP account (although, I’ve used them as my number one music news source for the past 3 years). But it is fascinating.
The majority of the posts that I read are about relationships (by which I usually mean “dating”). As someone who doesn’t have personal experiences with relationships but whose stories tend to involve relationship-driven plots, it’s a handy resource. I read about these peoples’ problems and the possible solutions that are offered to them by other people/strangers and I think about how I can use these real stories in my fictional stories i.e. “this guy and his clingy, wishy-washy ex-but-not-really-ex-girlfriend are the perfect basis for my next couple.”
That’s just an example, but you get the point.
What makes it really interesting to me is that it’s so personal and yet so anonymous. No one uses their real names. Not every user chooses to show their age and/or location underneath their avatar. So then you’re sitting around, wondering what kind of life they lead and why do all these guys seem to have the same problem and all sorts of other random questions that would probably be really creepy to say out loud. But for a writer, silent observation is just another part of the job.