I’m a Writer. What do you do for a living? (Pause) I study People.

Imagine if Hemingway or Faulkner had had a therapist and he was sitting on his (or her) couch for the first time, and after exchanging pleasantries, they would finally get down to the nitty-gritty, of what had gotten them there; and the above title, would be their parlance over their professions, something that maybe someone else might have easily gotten, but which made the therapist a little more shaken and irresolute. Why? you might wonder, would anything, like the idea of studying people, give the poor therapist a fright. Well, for one thing if their professions were changed, one of them might be out of a job, while the other, would be reeling in cash, by the armload.

Which is not to say that they’d have the market cornered or anything. But maybe therapists can teach us a thing or two about people and their motivations. If you are writing fiction of course, you will have to form a composite of your character(s) in your head. You will have to know what that person is like and the types of things that may or may not have influenced their life. You will also have to work out the types of experiences he may have had and the people who serve as aggressors. After all, conflict is at the heart of any good drama.

So you sit down and try to come up with some sort of sketch for the type of person he might be. How he looks, tall. Short. Lanky. Fat. Muscular. No, less beefy. With jet black hair and squinty eyes. Clean shaven. No, rugged. And the list goes on, as you think of his intellectual status, what he might have done, or places he may have gone. Educated. Not educated. Or maybe up to high school. But still there’s nothing too definite, you make it up as you go, feeling out the character, like an artist warming up at her easel. You take a minute, look out the window, try to form the flesh and bones outline only to get stuck by the heavier more intricate things, like their type of lifestyle. Or worst nightmare.

Which at the moment doesn’t mean much, because you might have only just begun, and don’t really know this character. But sit down. Take a deep breath and try to think of him or her as if they were a living breathing human being and then work it out from there. Or go to a party as your character, act as they would act. See and feel how they might come across to someone else. Remember, you are watching people to see how they interact. To see what makes them unique and flawed and human.

It isn’t just on the surface, really try to listen to them. To see the world through their eyes. For example, a short, smokey brunette sipping a Corona at a bar, trying to avoid making eye contact with a guy who’s definitely interested, because her boyfriend has just walked in. The bald headed man at the center table busy playing with his wedding ring, as he entertains a group of people from work, on the anniversary of his wife’s departure. And the studious teenager wolfing down a grilled cheese sandwich, as she peers outside at the lanky valet, her father and waits to be taken home to the grubby apartment where the lights have been cut.

But what are we observing exactly, if not life. The intricacies of it. How we meet and mingle with one another. How people present themselves. And also how they are, when they are alone. This is the life blood, the essence of the sport of writing. Do you have what it takes?

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