Written by Sarah Yoon (FireStarters Sneak Peek)

Looking for ways to hone your creativity this year? Give this writing prompt from our upcoming book, FireStarters, a try! FireStarters is all about inspiration, the differing creative types, and how to harness your particular creative energy to generate your best ideas. 


Staring awkwardly at strangers seems to be a hobby for writers. But without method, it doesn’t really help much. You stick to your habits, settling into your favorite coffee shop, peeking over your book at the familiar coffee crowd. If you step out of your comfortable corner, people watching can become much more valuable. The right location and a distinct goal save it from social awkwardness. Instead, you’ll find an inspiration goldmine.

1. Settle somewhere active. When people are interactive, you get more information than you could in an hour of staring at that computer-wielding mystery at the coffee shop.

2. Listen to passing chitchat. Snippets of conversations that are out of context are much more interesting than hearing the entirety of a one-sided phone call.

3. Watch for body language. Unspoken communication is often more revealing than the words spoken; look at posture, stride, arm movement, and eye movement.

4. Observe relationships. All it takes is a moment to see how a relationship functions, whether it’s an untried couple or a mother and daughter duo.

5. Take notes. When an observation sparks an idea, continue pondering. Imagine the person’s inner workings and past experiences until this stranger morphs into a character.

People watch at places with a constant stream of pedestrians: shopping malls, amusement parks, beaches, and even airports. Some flow quickly while others give you more time to observe, so judge accordingly.