2 December 2012


This week's installment of my A - Z in human behaviour and people watching, stems from a few too many trips to my local coffee shop. This post is a little different from the previous ones as it's mostly based on my observations in a particular setting, but stick with me. Hopefully you'll find some nugget of truth or inspiration hidden in there somewhere.

C is for Coffee shops

Over the past few weekends whilst I've visited my regularly coffee shop, I've sipped my coffee and nosily watched the other people around me. And I couldn't help but notice particular types of drinkers.

The Techno Single
You'll recognise the techno single by the ubiquitous white headphones, laptop and phone. This drinker will have settled themselves near an electrical socket and most often in the comfiest seat. They will be in for the long haul so don't expect to get that comfy seat from them. They are also very keen to protect the space around them, and will pile their coat and bags up on the surrounding seats to prevent anyone else from getting too close. Despite the long hours they spend in the coffee shop, you'll rarely see a full cup of coffee in front of them. They're far too busy tapping away on their phone or computer to actually get a drink.

The Couple
Particularly prominent in new relationships or younger couples, you'll find these pairs deeply absorbed in each other's words or actions. Leaning over the table towards each other, they'll feed each other food, sip from each other's mugs, and find different ways to touch each other. For the couple, they are happy in their own little world, sharing little smiles between themselves. For the observer, it can be a little sickly sweet. Look at your own peril.

The Friends
The group of friends will create their own little space by pulling chairs or tables together and huddling around. Other members of the group will lean in over their steaming mugs as they listen to the next piece of interesting information from their companion. Volume won't be a concern as they chat, gossip and laugh together, getting increasingly louder as the conversation gets more interesting. 

The Student
Surrounded by books, the student will have their head in their hand as they contemplate the matter before them. They may be scribbling away in a notebook, or staring into space whilst they tap their pen in deep concentration. They'll have the table to themselves and their books, but there won't be a spare chair around them because the group of friends will have already taken them all.

But what does this have to do with writing, I hear you say. Well, to some degree, not much. They're just my observations. But to another degree these small observations can help bring our writing to life.

How many films feature cafe or diner scenes as part of their story? It's actually quite a lot. Think of the opening scene of Pulp Fiction, or Jim Carey's testing of his God-like powers in Bruce Almighty. OK, so these might be rather extreme examples, but even in these seemingly mundane places, things can happen. Unusual events that change the whole story or maybe it's something that just tells us a bit more about the protagonist. Does the hero stare into his coffee because he can't stop thinking about the girl he should have kissed? Are the couple one table over staring at each other shyly because they are on their first date or are they best friends that just haven't admitted their feelings for each other?

When it comes to writing (and acting) even the smallest of things can stick in your mind or make an impact on you. For me, I think Maggie Stiefvater is the perfect author of those random little moments and places. In The Wolves of Mercy Falls series I loved all the intimate and very real moments that Grace and Sam shared, whether it was in the bookstore, car or diner. In this example from Linger, I love how the awkwardness between Sam and Isabel comes across in their behaviour in Kenny's diner.
While she was gone, Isabel and I sat in a kind of uneasy silence filled by a Motown song playing overhead and the clattering of plates in the kitchen. I studied the shape of the salt shaker's warped shadow across the container of sugar packets. Isabel examined the chunky cuff of her sweater and the way it rested on the table. Finally, she said, "You made another bird thing."
I picked up the crane that I'd folded out of my napkin while I was waiting. It was lumpy and imperfect because the napkin hadn't been quite square. "Yeah."
Whilst I may have chosen a rather strange way to do it, the point I'm trying to illustrate is that you can find inspiration anywhere no matter how mundane or unexpected. So when you're next buying a coffee, take a look around and see what is lurking beneath the surface.

But before you go, tell me, which type of coffee drinker are you? :D


Jamie Gibbs said...

I enjoy people watching when I'm in a coffee shop; it's fun to get a small snippet of conversation and then try to put it into context :)

I'm the reader/drinker. I try to sip my coffee without tearing my eyes from the page, which often doesn't end well for me :)


Book Angel Emma said...

<3 <3 <3

Hannah Mariska said...

:D We don't have any reader/drinkers in my coffee shop. What a sad place!! I've made that mistake before too!

Jo said...

I don't drink coffee, so I don't go to coffee shops. I'd probably be with the group of friends, because that's the only time I'd really be there. But you know, I'd never really think of things like that. Of the different people in different places, who they are, why they're there. May do that in future, just for fun!

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