You Never Know Who’s Watching

Bruce Robert Coffin here, manning the wheel of the Murder Books Blog. I hope you're all enjoying a fantastic summer. I've joked in the past that Maine only has two distinct seasons, summer and not summer. And since our summers only last a few weeks, we Mainers try and spend the entire season out of doors.

Speaking of outdoors, several weeks back, while enjoying lunch on the deck of a quaint little tavern, overlooking the Kennebec River in the coastal town of Bath, I got the idea for this blog about people watching. No, I'm not talking about that Dean Martin style of ogling from the street corner as all the girls go by, but rather the kind of watchfulness that happens whenever a writer takes to the streets. Mystery writers in particular are always on the lookout for characters and traits to populate whichever book they are currently working on.

People watching is the equivalent of research when writing a novel. Fascinating is the way people act when they are around others and they think nobody is watching. It's a little like being a cop in that I am constantly aware of my surroundings and the people inhabiting that space. The major difference being that instead of only focusing on threats I now watch for people's quirks. How they carry themselves. The way they treat others. How many times they check themselves in the mirror or store window. Do they glance back after someone has passed by? Do they flirt or leer? Whether they are uppity or pleasant when interacting others. Even their physical make up is great fodder. Would they make good victims or are they better suited to being the baddie? Or perhaps they could play the part of the unhelpful witness. You know the type. The ones with their heads stuck in a phone, so engrossed in social media that a murder could be committed right next to them and they'd miss it entirely, unless of course they were lucky enough to capture it while snapping a selfie. Hmm, perhaps a story idea.

The way people conduct themselves in public can be highly entertaining. And we listen too. Snippets of conversation drift by on a summer breeze like radio stations as we spin the dial. Some folks gossip, some gripe about work or family, and some share the latest good news from their lives.

The next time you're out at a public place be careful what you do and say, you never know when a mystery author might be nearby, searching for their next victim.

7 thoughts on “You Never Know Who’s Watching

  1. Great post, Bruce. I, too, have been known to sit in a public place with notebook in hand jotting down snippets of conversation around me and details of people’s appearance. Another trick is to stick your phone earbuds in your ears and pretend to be listening to music. People think you can’t hear what they’re talking about, so they’re less likely to whisper.

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    1. A very interesting technique, Brian. If one sits in a restaurant and shields one’s eyes by wearing sunglasses many nearby become suspicious that they are being covertly watched from behind the dark lenses. But when one covers one’s ears with ear buds, many will not assume they’re being covertly listened to. I wonder what accounts for this difference in assumptions regarding the shielding of the eyes and the ears. I also wonder what the default assumption would be if one sat in a restaurant with a clothespin on one’s nose.

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