Caution. Writer at Work by Tara Randel

As an author, one aspect of writing is people watching. Where ever I go, I observe what people do, how they do it, what they say and how they say it. I can be at the mall, at a sporting event, even in church, and pick up tidbits that help shape my characters or story to some degree.

Creating characters in not easy. With each character, I must determine their inner struggles and how those struggles impact the story line. I go so far as using a character check list, not only to flesh out the inner conflict, but to detail physical attributes. Names sometimes pop into my head as I create a character, or the name comes to me and from there I draw the character sketch. Kind of a which came first scenario, the chicken or the egg? And depending on the type of book I may be writing, I search for names for their specific meaning to the story line.

Once I have the characters and story established, I gather nuances from life around me. For example, I plotted my August Heartwarming release, Orange Blossom Brides, while attending a bridal fashion show. As I wrote the book, I remembered the room decorations, what the models wore and the time of year. Little bits of this added creative touches to my story. Also, remembering the details gave my imagination a jumping off point. From there, anything is possible.

Inspiration comes to writers in a myriad of places. I once named a character after a cool name of a friends cat. I watched a Civil War reenactment and listened to the crowd to collect color commentary for a scene I later used in a book. Even when my writer friends and I meet for coffee, and ultimately start discussing our works in process, folks sitting nearby wonder if our characters are real live people. And please, don’t discuss how to commit a literary crime because that raises a few eyebrows.

I bring a notebook with me everywhere I go so I can jot down impressions or take notes. Just recently, I went for a helicopter ride. I had to take notes because, hey, I may have a character who travels in a helicopter. I go to NASCAR races. Always have a notebook with me. Whenever I go to a new city, I take a notebook. I always find something that will enrich my story.

 There is a big world out there and so much of it can be used in conjunction with my imagination. That is the fun part of writing. Not only does life imitate art, but every day experiences create a treasure trove for writers. Even if you aren’t an author, who hasn’t sat on a park bench and watched the world around them? Observing human nature is very interesting indeed.

So, in closing, let me add a word of caution. Be careful what you say around me. I may use it in my novel.


  1. Tara, every word is so true about writers. My husband used to say he knew when he'd lost me to the conversation going on behind me in a restaurant. I have file cabinets full of great tidbits I'll probably never use. I keep saying I need to go through and toss things that are obsolete. I just keep stuffing more interesting facts in those folders.

  2. Tara - you sound every bit as lost to the process as the rest of us. I think writers are born with brains that record those little things that can define a character or a scene. A civilian might not even notice it, but a writer recognizes it as just what she (or he) needs. Even what she might someday need. I have seven or eight yellow pads going in which I've collected descriptions and random notes. But I do have to get them better organized!

  3. In my August release I used a story from my friend Marleen. She told me about her aunts making bows and arrows out of tiny twigs, rubber bands, and then using Q-tips (which they set on fire) as arrows. Yup, I knew as she was telling the story that it had to be in one of my books! I asked permission of course. Sometimes I think my life is dull compared to my friends. Never in a million years would I think to use the above ingredients as bow and arrows LET ALONE SET THE QTIPS ON FIRE

    1. You must have been a bookish child like I was. I loved being outdoors, but sitting on a comfy spot under a tree with a copy of LITTLE WOMEN was preferable to climbing the tree. And I've always had a strong sense of self-preservation, but I guess we have to admire our adventurous friends or we'd have nothing to write about!

    2. LOL
      I loved both. Even now, my family takes the quads out and we go for eight hour jaunts into the wilderness. The guys stop and nap, and I curl up next to a tree and read. When you're the only female, you appreciate those little moments of peace. Of course, if my son doesn't fall asleep then instead I have to go into tunnels and tell him, "Don't touch that!" Last time, we find animal remains that were down to the bone. Too cool. The older I get, the more I self-presevate (is that a word?)

    3. Self-preserve? I like self-preservate. Let's coin it!

  4. Great post, Tara! I'm a people watcher too and love to go to malls to look at the shoppers rather than the clothes. Weird, right? But there are so many stories flooding by me as I sit on my wooden bench, chewing on an Auntie Anne's pretzel (okay- that may be the real reason for the mall trip, but still...) I have a notebook too, and like Roz, I store them when I fill them up wondering when will I use this or that... I do need some kind of system so I can access, but in the mean time, I absorb and that's so important for writers.

  5. Tara, I always warn new friends that anything they say or do could find its way into a future story so I know what you mean LOL.

    In the summer, my husband and I sit on our covered porch and make up stories about our neighbors and the walkers/bicyclists in the neighborhood. Everything is fodder for stories!

  6. I love people watching also, I can sit for quite a while and watch and I make up stories to go with them ... sometimes I want to stop them and ask them to tell me their story so I can see how far off I was ... might be a little to creapy to do that though. :)


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