Amanda of MacGregor Literary recently posted a great “Write What You Know” article on their agency blog. Personally I believe you can extend “what you know” by both experience and observation. During a recent trip to the Eastern Mediterranean I had the chance to watch people in many different situations and wonder about what motivated them.
On the flight from Atlanta to Paris a high school group was sitting just in front of my wife and me. A girl in a sorority T-shirt slid past a boy from her class into her seat. She shyly averted her eyes. His gaze told me that he thought this was his lucky day to have her sitting next to him. They spent a good portion of the flight engrossed in conversation.
On a tour of a glass blowing factory in Venice the guide took two very bored little boys by the hand and led them to the front with an announcement of, “VIPs coming through.” No longer condemned to looking through the legs of the adults in front of them, they got front row seats to the demonstration.
There was an inseparable pair of high school girls on our ship. I saw them both on board and on shore excursions. They looked like contemporaries, not sisters. But the curious thing to me was that one was always following the other like an adoring puppy, the other the undisputed leader. What’s up with that?
In our dining room on the last night a middle aged couple at a table for two gazed into each other’s eyes like they were on a first date. Were they, or had they just managed to keep the romance in their marriage?
I observed how some passengers treated the crew callously and was reminded that much of the history of that part of the world was built on slavery. I suspected that some of my fellow travelers would be glad to slip back into those days. On the other hand, I saw many who treated the staff graciously and were patient with language differences. They recognized them as fellow and equal creations, regardless of our roles.
Sitting in the amphitheater in Ephesus, Turkey where the Apostle John may have taught and walking the streets of Athens, where I imagine he may have walked helped me add detail to my own story of the Last Apostle. But I don’t have to travel half way around the world to see things that can help me with my story telling.
People watching can provide me with the kernel of a character or just help me see others in greater depth. Careful observation helps me extend the breadth of “What I know,” and the richness of my writing. I don’t have to do it on a trip. I can do it anywhere that I have the chance to observe my fellow humans.