When you write stories, your subject is always (for want of a better term) “the human condition”. People, and the ways that they behave, interact, come into conflict and resolve their conflicts. Different writers and genres focus on different types of conflict or methods of resolution, or ways of interacting – but ultimately, it’s all about people.
Understanding people is also at the root of dating advice in its myriad forms, although often these come from misunderstandings of people, in that gender is far too often at the forefront of thinking. But anyway, it’s about observing and recognising stuff, usually stuff about courtship, flirting, attraction and so on.
I’m writing a novel focussed on relationship drama. I’m also interesting in improving and learning dating and socialising skills. Therefore, I people-watch.
Tuesday night, I was riding home on the bus. Headphones on, rock music in my ears, staring out the window into the darkness. The reflections in the window caught my eye, particularly a group of two young women and a young man who were sat a row forwards of me on the opposite side of the bus. The man (let’s call him Al, but not because of any song that may or my not mention that name) was sitting next to the blonde woman (call her Babs) on the same seat. The other woman (how about Caz? – so that’s A, B and C) sat on the row in front and turned herself to face them and talk.
What caught my eye was that Caz’s body language was textbook stuff for the things described by, for example, Pick-Up Artists or social science researchers as showing huge indicators of interest in Al. I couldn’t hear anything that was said, and was purely watching the group in the reflection – creating an interesting sense of isolation from what I was seeing – but I followed the exchanges through the body language. Al’s position hid much of Babs’s posture from my line of sight (whether I looked directly or in the mirror) but what I did see suggested that she viewed him as “hers”. Caz, therefore, was operating “under the radar” to steal Al. This, at least, was what the writer part of my brain conjured as the plotline unfolding on the bus. What was certain was the way that Caz responded to Al, but was muted in responding to Babs, and the way Babs studied Al, even when Caz was talking.
Caz preened, stroking key points in exactly the way highlighted by, for example, numerous TV documentaries on this area of research, and displaying her neck and face again, as highlighted by those sources. She was interspersing this with the classic “I’m not interested (but I’m still looking to see if you are)” body language, leaning away, eyeing him closely (especially if he seemed to turn attention more to Babs). She laughed strongly at most of his remarks and was quick to add something to emphasise connection or agreement (again, judging by the visual subcommunication – I couldn’t hear anything that was said).
Fair dos, I would have missed all of it if it had been targeted at me. I doubt very much that Al was completely oblivious. His position (based on indifferent but mildly amused body language) seemed to be one of enjoying the attention that the two women gave him. My writer’s instinct (or “guess” – but anyway, the way I would have written it if they were characters in my story) was that he was happy with Babs but enjoyed Caz’s interest in him and would lead her on to greater (and still futile) efforts for that reason. Keeping Babs jealous might also make her qualify harder to him, also benefiting his social worth and his chances of getting what he wanted from Babs. (This “writer’s instinct” bit is all speculation, remember – I’m just making up the story I would tell based on what I saw, not what really was going on).
The point being that this was a confluence of my attempts at self-improvement in terms of social and dating life, and of my continued growth as a writer, to observe and interpret what I saw, and then to turn that around into the basis of a story. In real life, of course, beginnings and endings are arbitrary. But in fiction, I know that what I saw could be the start or the middle of a story, but there was definitely more to tell before the resolution and finale.