postheadericon How to People Watch on the Subway

You are riding the subway. Silly you have forgotten to bring along a good book to read along with a pair of earbuds to plug into your phone! What shall you do for the torturous 30-minute ride? People watch––it’s fun, it’s interesting and it may just inspire your writing, painting or other creative outlets.

How to People Watch on the Subway

1 Try to look for the most interesting looking individual. How about that guy with the long beard and the funky odor? Or the woman with the long purple hair that covers her eyes? Look for certain details that make them different from the other people on the subway. It is helpful to keep a journal with you to write things you notice about the things you notice when people watching. When you have found every possible thing, write a few questions for yourself in the journal. Such as, Why are they on the subway today? Or, what is life for them like at home? Do they have kids?

How to People Watch on the Subway

2 Avoid staring or seeming intrusive. The subway is fairly cramped and personal space can feel invaded if you stare too long or too much. If they see you sort of staring at them, just smile casually and look at your journal to avoid further awkwardness. Find another person to check out rather than re-establishing the awkwardness with the same person.

How to People Watch on the Subway

3 Use other senses to notice things. Observation isn’t just about watching or looking. It’s also about using your other senses. Listen: What conversation is the person having? Maybe they’re on a phone or talking to someone else? Smell: Can you catch a whiff of a pleasant perfume or perhaps a lack of showering? Do this discreetly, of course, there is no need to look like a bloodhound. Touch: This is not about deliberately touching something. It should only happen by chance, if you’re pressed up against the person while standing or seated together. Is their clothing texture rough or smooth? Did their backpack dig into you perhaps? Taste: This is an after-action and only applies where the person observed was eating something. If they were eating something you fancy trying for the first time, consider buying it and trying it out. This can be helpful if you’re developing a character for your novel based on the person you observed––if that person was also eating cherry pie or a cronut, you might like to try one for the sake of description in your novel, if you decide your character always eats cherry pies or cronuts. Otherwise, this sense can be ignored.

How to People Watch on the Subway

4 Try inviting friend to people watch with you when you feel comfortable with it. Explain to friends how you people watch on the subway. Catch the subway together and practice some people watching in tandem. Try to do the same individual together. When you are done, you and your friend can compare your writings. See if your ideas are close or really different.

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