How Stalking People Can Help Make Your Characters More Real - a guest post by Hannah White

September 22, 2017

   Morning, readers! Guess who's guest posting today? The epic Hannah White from Ink Blots And Coffee Stains is here to give y'all a few tips for how stalking people can make your characters more realistic (because, come on now, what kind of author doesn't watch people?).

   [quick aside: y'all only have four more days to enter the writing contest! If you're planning to, you better act fast]
   Alrighty, I'll go ahead and step aside now so that you guys can read Hannah's wonderful words.

   *exit Savannah*

how stalking people can help make your characters more realistic - a guest post by Hannah White [header image]

I want to quickly give a huge thank you to Savannah for letting me guest post on her absolutely lovely blog! I’ve followed Scattered Scribblings for quite a while now, and it’s such a privilege to get to come visit and write to the rest of the awesome people that hang out here.

Now, on with the post!

Let’s face it: we all stalk people.

We might not do it to the caliber that criminals and creepy guys in TV shows do, but we do watch people. We tend to be a bit nosy, dropping ease on the particularly loud couple in the aisle next to you, or the family of five in line in front of you.

It’s part of being observant. But have you ever thought about just how beneficial stalking people could be?

Allow me to shed some light on the subject.

I’m not really sure how it started, but when I was around twelve or so and realized just how awesome keeping a journal could be, I started to make notes of people I saw. Little quirks about them that drew my notice, enough so that I wanted to make a note of them.

What kind of things, you ask? I took a little trip down memory lane to find these special notes, just for you.

*Blue hair with white highlights.

*Hunches shoulders and purses lips and squinting – normal driving posture

*Thick chin

*Silky smooth hair

*Mouse-ish face—small and beady

*High, tittering laugh

Do you get the picture?

They’re little things that are, well, little, but somehow can make the difference between a cardboard cutout and a living, breathing being. Sometimes just one physical detail to ground us in the character is more helpful than hair/eye color and a description of the person’s shirt or height.

The real value is in the little things. Phrases people say that are distinct, different gaits, a person’s “relaxed” expression. (Do they naturally look angry? Sad? Happy?) If you watch people, you’ll notice all these little questions have answers. Because real people have these. Real people have little quirks.

character image [1]

Look around at people. Notice them. Notice what they wear. Do they wear bright colors or are they always dressed in dark? If they wear bright colors, why do you think that is? Don’t let yourself be confined to what you see. Feel free to use your imagination. (If you see someone with a mohawk that makes you think of a bald person with red tattoos, write down a bald person with red tattoos.) If you have a character that wears bright colors, you might consider how that reflects his/her personality.

What about phrases? Is there a certain word your character likes? Where did they pick it up? At home, work, school? A favorite book or TV show? Have you heard the phrase before? How do you think that person has been raised differently than you, given the way they speak? Is their grammar poor?

What about specific words to replace others? For example, I made a note when someone called my feet “clod-hoppers”. (I think he had a history in farming? It’s been a few years :P ) Some people might call a bag a purse, or a sack, or a satchel. Some people might call a phone a cell, a tablet, or a telephone. Having characters call things by certain names shines a light into their past. And if your main character meets someone new and they both have different words for the same thing, that grounds you in the reality that these characters are different, and you begin to forget they were created, not born.

What about a person’s voice? Is there anything noticeable about your main character’s voice? Is it high or low? Is it higher for a man’s voice, or low for a girl’s voice? Is it soft or loud? Whiney or musical? Are they insecure about it, or can they not get enough of their own words?

What about a person’s hair? Is it long or short? Do they use gel, or do they let it go wild and free? Do they wear it up or down? Do they use headbands? Do they wear hats? What kinds of hats? Do they like to spike it up in the front? Do they curl it frequently? Is it always different, or always the same? How does that reflect character?

What are their tells? Do they blink really hard when they’re lying? Do they swallow, or fiddle with their hands, or maintain eye contact and hold perfectly still? What about when they’re happy? Does their nose crinkle up? Do their eye brows scrunch up in their forehead? Do they purse their lips, or do they smile wide and huge?

character image [2]

In a world full of stories, we want our books—and our characters—to stand out. We want them to draw attention. And little details like these are so easy to overlook. Who cares if your main character likes to wear their hair in a messy bun and looks like a completely different person when she takes it down? Who would notice if that one guy walks leaning slightly to his right?

We might not even notice details like this when we’re reading (if they’re given). But somehow, little things like these bring life and blood to your story. It makes those characters breathe. It makes them stand out in the world of black and white.


Because we can connect to them. We see them everywhere we go, even if we don’t stop to consciously pay attention to them. We can imagine a girl who never takes off her sweater, no matter the temperature. That’s a marker we can remember her by. We can remember the boy who showers so much because he doesn’t want to smell, that his hands always smell like pineapples from the lotion he steals from his mom’s bathroom.

These are the things that stick out.

These are the things we remember.

So pay attention. Take notes. Figure out what it is about a person that makes them significant in your mind, and infuse it into your writing. It just might be that missing piece to your character that you’ve been looking for.

hannah white's bio image

do you get character ideas from watching people?
where have you found some of your coolest character ideas?
feel free to chat with Hannah in the comments!


  1. PEOPLE WATCHING IS FANTASTIC. First of all, it's really cool to see all the different types of people and what their stories might be. Second, some are perfect for character ideas. People watching is a great way to find those little details. :)

    1. Yes! I love making up stories for the different people I see. I wish I was bold enough to actually ask more people about their stories :P

  2. Thanks for this post, Hannah! You too, Savvy. ;)
    Jaidyn Elise<3

  3. Ooooh, this was a great post, Hannah!! Observing people is pretty interesting. PEOPLE in general are so interesting! Trust me, I observe people ALL the time (which seems weird bc as an extrovert I shouldn't be able to do this bc we can't blend into the backround as much??). And that is SUCH good insight for all the story-peeps out there--make your characters real by observing reality!
    And that whole keeping a journal and writing about people in it? THAT IS A GOLDEN IDEA HANNAH.
    Both of you girls are pretty cool. Keep being awesome! <3
    Many of God's blessings on your day!

    1. Thank you so much! You should try it sometime ;) Journaling is so much fun and really invaluable!

  4. I love stalking people, though I don't do it much anymore because I'm running around a lot. But it does give me lots of ideas when I actually get around to doing it! You can't write about real life if you never experience it!

    1. Exactly! And I don't make physical notes much anymore either, but just having that mindset will give you a good leg up in creating vivid characters

  5. OMW THIS IS SO SPOT ON! I just wrote a story about this on my place and wow you just echo my thoughts, Hannah! I JUST LOVE THIS POST SO MUCH I CAN'T EVEN.


    1. Oh, really?!? I didn't steal it I PROMISE. I'll have to run check yours out! :D

  6. Beautiful! I really enjoyed this post - it reminded me a lot, of course, of the book Harriet the Spy. Some of these things I methodically save, but others I haven't even thought of. Like - describing a person's voice like that. Now you're making me want to pull out a sheet of paper and do this! I have so many little catchphrases, habits, or character pieces that I am dying to use for a character, all stored away in emails to myself or notebooks hidden in bookshelves. Also, random bits of dialogue that I hear from people I pass. The one I'm really hoping to use is "Yuperdoodleandelion" as someone's version of "Yes" or "Yup."

    1. lol that's a gem! And I find using specific words/phrases is a much easier way to describe someone's voice as opposed to "it was deep/light/etc."

  7. LOVE THIS. <3 I ADORE people-watching, and I realized recently the author in me is much to blame. I just run around dying ask people weird and totally RANDOM questions, like "did you dye your hair, or is that a natural color?" The worst is eye color--I'm constantly trying to look at people's eyes and describe the shade without being creepy or awkward about it. My sister is so tired of my comments on how unique her eyes are! #writerproblems

    1. Lol! That's so great :P I would really like to notice eye color, but that's actually something I really have to make an effort to notice? I notice eye shape and eye lash length and brow thickness more than the actual color of the eyes, mainly because it's hard for me to tell someone's eye color when I'm just standing there and having a conversation with them. That's really awesome that you notice it! :D

  8. YES TO ALL OF THIS. I think all we writers are natural stalkers, it's in our DNA. XD But, come on, our into livelihoods are about creating people! Naturally we're going to be people-observers. We just can't help it!

    You made so many good points. I especially liked the one about how people call things by different names. That's such a great little detail to use to bring your characters alive.

    I think it's so cool you kept a journal about details of people. That is brilliant! I should start doing that myself!

    Thank you for sharing with us! This post makes me feel better about all the eavesdropping I do. ;D

    1. Exactly! It's part of the job description :P And I totally agree that you should keep a journal! Maybe not follow in my footsteps in that when someone says something oddly you gasp and fumble for your pen XP That raises some awkward questions...

  9. THIS IS THE BEST POST!!!!!!! Such a great reminder for character building!

    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it :D

  10. YES YES YES! I love this post. <3 <3 <3 So true all the way!

    1. Thank you! Now you have an excuse to stalk people ;P

  11. EEEEEEPPPP SAVANNAH I HAVEN'T BEEN ON HERE FOREVER AND IT'S YOUR BLOGOVERSARY!!!!! *throws confetti* Happy blogoversary! Here's to many more of your awesome posts! =) I can't wait to see what's next for you on your writing journey and for Scattered Scribblings! =D *more confetti* Also... I saw that you have a new little brother. He is ADORABLE!!!!! *more confetti because there can never be too much confetti*

    Okay, odd confession, but I do love people watching and I am so going to write a book one day about a girl who stalks people by watching them outside her window xD Great post, Hannah! Watching people SO can help create interesting and vivid characters!

    Micaiah @ Notebooks and Novels

    1. LOL DO IT, GIRL! I would totally read that :P It'll bring a whole new level of relatability

  12. I do this so much. NO ONE NORMALLY NOTICES THOUGH, SO THAT'S OKAY. XD If they noticed, it might be weird... XP

  13. This is so me...I people watch all. the. time. Maybe more than I should...But people are just so fascinating!! I love finding character faces in crowds of people and I always internally flail a little when I see someone who looks exactly like one of my characters. Thanks for sharing this Hannah! I feel less bad about my habit now. XD


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