The places where writers (including myself) find story ideas fascinates me. Sometimes it’s by way of deep, meta concepts, sometimes it’s through trivial day-to-day activities, and sometimes it’s from the depth of interesting personas one finds when people watching.
I had to visit the grocery store two days in a row due to a butter crisis. (If you don’t know what a butter crisis is, you haven’t had to bake 12 dozen cookies in two days for a holiday cookie swap.) Since Thanksgiving the bell ringers have been out, standing outside stores and ringing merrily for donations.
That is, all but one bell ringer. The guy at my local store was anything but merry. More fitting adjectives would be: rough-looking, intense, and generally creepy. The same guy was there both days, and both days, he freaked me out.
One expects bell ringers to stand next to the bucket ringing away, smiling at patrons, possibly wishing Merry Christmas now and then. What isn’t expected is for the bell ringer to shout “greetings” at customers in a tone that would better warn trespassers of his land that he owns a large firearm.
The burly, somewhat scraggly guy was pacing back and forth, leering out at people across the parking lot, and only rang the bell when someone entered or exited the store, at which point he would furiously shake the bell at them and practically growl a greeting.
The dude looked like a creeper. I saw others give him a wide berth as they passed, and I can’t imagine he did well with collecting donations. His “Have a good day, Ma’am” sounded more like “I slashed your tires, I’m taking you home to lock you in the basement.” I hurried away as fast as I could.
It all brought me to wonder why a guy like that would be drawn to volunteering in the first place. He looked more like an ex-con or a serial killer. That’s when I realized he could totally BE a serial killer. At that point I (as we writers often do) put myself in the place of a killer, and I thought, what better place to scope out the next victim?
One thing’s for sure: I’m filing that guy away for later use as a possible story antagonist. What a character gem I found, simply by going grocery shopping.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen while people watching, and what observations have influenced characters in your stories?
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