When I was old enough to have a driver's license, I never pulled into traffic without looking right, then left, then right again. Rear view and side mirrors gave me nearly 360-degree awareness. Except for the blind spots. For them, I had to glance over my shoulders.
Long before I began to write seriously, I used this situational awareness to eavesdrop on conversations. I can't tell you how many great lines, how many wonderful images, I picked up over time. Like the time I was sitting outside Wolf Trap waiting for my gal friend and her mother. We had seats for "Rent," a musical I couldn't wait to see. Walking toward me like he owned the world was the cutest guy. Tall, erect posture, GQ styling, polished shoes, and the biggest Big Gulp I'd ever seen. That 32-ounce cup of soda killed any interest I might have had to flirt.
Or the time I was eating breakfast in a hotel where a scientific conference was going on. Tables were at a premium, so strangers shared. Two men joined me. One had a noticeable accent, Scandinavian something or German, I thought. The other was pure Bahston. Doc Bahston asked Doc Scandinavian where he was from. Oslo. Aw, Doc Scandinavian was Doc Oslo. Got that. More get-acquainted conversation continued. Doc Bahston asked Doc Oslo where he was teaching. Doc Oslo said, "I was tired of the cold in Norway, so I took a job teaching at the University of Buffalo." As in Buffalo, NY, one of the coldest cities in the state. I wanted to ask him how getting away from the cold was working out for him.
I'll probably use both of those images in stories at some time. I'm not calling dibs, so if you want to add Mr. GQ and Doc "I don't like the cold" before I do, feel free. I don't even want royalties.
The more I write, the more I am aware of what's going on around me. What I don't get, in this era of bad guys who want to do harm, why so few have the same situational awareness as I do. Sit on a bench in any city with a lot of foot traffic. (That would probably rule out Los Angeles, unless you're in Santa Monica.) How many people look around, listen or pay attention to anything? Not many.
Too many people walk with heads down, thumbs flying over smartphone keyboards, ear buds drowning out footsteps coming up behind. People are too interested in cute kitty videos, or sharing the latest thought with their cadre of friends or pumping music directly into their brains. Is it any wonder when something happens requiring an accurate eyewitness account, most aren't capable?
Peeps, put those cellphone in your pocket. Listen to what's going on around you. Watch how people move. Who knows. You might overhear a snippet of conversation that you can't forget, that you must write down or you'll just bust. Don't miss the opportunity. Become aware of your surroundings. If you don't, I'm likely to find you, exploit some tic or quirk you'd rather I not notice and stuff you in a novel. For your sake, I hope I find something positive rather than some than silly thing you don't think I'd notice. Believe me. I notice. So be wary. Be very wary.