First step in seeing people

First step in seeing people


I love the way that some authors can catch the essence of a person in a few sentences.  But how can I do that as a writer?

I set myself the task of really trying to observe the people around me. By that I mean not just seeing what I expect to see, but really deconstructing their behaviour into a suite of movements and expressions and so on. But this can be overwhelming. So I decided to reduce the observations to brief moments. Here is one such moment.

The other day I found myself sitting in an auditorium waiting for two people to speak. The MC was droning on, so I took the opportunity to study the upcoming speakers. The first stood fairly upright, legs slightly apart, shoulders relaxed and hands clasped loosely behind his back. He looked towards the MC, mouth curling up slightly at each end. The second speaker had hunched shoulders, crossed arms and his chin rested on his chest while he stared solidly at the floor the entire time.

What did this body language mean?

I don’t know.

What message did I receive? What were my expectations based upon seeing that body language?

Personally I expected the first speaker to be friendly and open. I expected that whatever message he gave would be non-threatening.

As for the second speaker, perhaps he was going to be a tense uncomfortable speaker, or fiery and aggressive. Maybe he would be unsure of his message. Or maybe he would be telling us something unpleasant.


I was right about the first speaker but wrong about the second one. The second one was passionate but in a surprisingly constrained manner. Whereas the first speaker’s eyes merrily bounced around the room as he spoke, the second speaker’s gaze bored right into all of us.

How can I use this in my writing? I must find a scene where I can do so.