You Know You’re A Writer When: People Watching


When the commuter train pulled up at my stop a bunch of people tumble out of the cars and stand dutifully at the end of the pavement, waiting for the train to pull away so we can cross the tracks and head to our cars or walking-distance homes. After doing this for several years, you recognize the people who have their noses buried in their phones, are staring pointedly ahead, are watching the conductors and waiting for their all aboard hand signals. We don’t talk to each other. There is no interaction, but you become familiar enough with people…and if you’re a writer you watch them like a hawk to figure out their back story.

Black and white photo of a woman standing in front of a window. We see her back and she is hugging herself. the window has translucent curtains reminicent of a country style

dying thoughts near a window II by Derrick CC 3.0

One man lives in the condo building across from the train. We walk in the same direction and, half way through the parking lot, he throws one arm over his head in a huge I’m-Over-Here!-type wave. After several nights, I finally saw the figure in the window of the top floor of the condo building.

Instantly, I have two stories in my head. One is sweet: the wife stays home and is anxiously awaiting her love to come home. She is giddy with anticipation. I instantly discard that story. How boring.

The other is sinister: the woman (a wife, sister, person the way of a great fortune) is stuck in the apartment. She is unable to move on her own (a la Blanche in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane) or she’s more the crazy in the attic type (a la Bertha from Jane Eyre). She watches for him, hating him, dreading his return but here he is…again. The house of horrors is about to start.

It’s not that I expect the worst in people…it’s that I want there to be a better story and, unfortunately, those usually don’t have such great beginnings and middles for the people living them.

I fear, though, that I’ve picked the two most obvious stories. There have to be better, more interesting things that you can glean from this action. What are your guesses?

You’ll be happy to know, that despite the gloomy and frightening corners my mind runs to, this couple does seem to fall into the first, sweet story category. Today, for the first time, I saw the figure in the window move. Once the man waved, she stood up and seem to fly out of the room in eager anticipation.


7 thoughts on “You Know You’re A Writer When: People Watching

  1. bethfinke

    Hmmm. I guess you know you’re a *non-fiction* writer, then, when a scene like this tempts you to sit next to the guy the next time you’re on the train, nudge him and simply ask what his story is!

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