Every Person Has A Story

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Long before I became a writer, I was a people watcher. Crowded shopping malls, restaurants, and airports were among my favorite places to make observations.

Now, as a writer, studying people has taken on a new meaning. I once wrote a short story after I witnessed a meeting between a young man and another couple in a restaurant. They might have been his parents. It was in January, but they brought him Christmas gifts. I couldn’t help but wonder about the story behind that meeting.

Recently, while standing in line at the pharmacy, I had the privilege of observing the customer in front of me. The clerk asked her date of birth as proof of identity. I was surprised to learn she was eighty years of age. She paid for her purchase with a check, which I found refreshing in these days of plastic money. I wanted to learn more about her, and I could picture her as a character in a future book.

There are times when I encounter people and wonder about their story without necessarily thinking about writing. Such was the case a one Saturday morning when I was out for breakfast with my husband.

A young man came into the restaurant with two small boys. The oldest was perhaps three or four years old, the younger one less than one year. I assumed he was the father and I expected the mother to join them, but she never came. He didn’t wear a wedding ring. Was he a single father who had his sons for weekend? Was he perhaps giving the mom a day for herself?

Behind every person is a story. (You can tweet that.)

People are more than an idea for a book or blog post. Everyone we encounter have their own stories. Some are going through difficult times. Others are in the midst of changes and needing to make important decisions. Some have recently experienced a life-changing event.

A few months ago, I read a quote by singer Toby Mac.

Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

I need to remember this the next time someone makes me angry when they cut me off in traffic. Perhaps they are in a hurry to be with a loved one in the hospital. When someone pushes ahead of me in line at the grocery checkout, it could be because they were running late from work and needed to get home to their family.

The chatty passenger sitting beside you on the plane could be lonely and in need of someone to talk to. If someone lashes out in anger, it may be their way of hiding deep and abiding sorrow or stress. We never know what battles most people are facing.

Have you ever had an unpleasant encounter with a stranger? How did you handle it? If you are a writer, do you often get story ideas from observing people?

I’d love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

[special] Congratulations to Stacy Claflin and LaMcCoy! Their names were randomly selected to receive copies of Lorna Faith’s book, Answering Annaveta. [/special]


14 thoughts on “Every Person Has A Story

  1. I enjoy people watching and for the same reasons you mention. Thinking about their “story” intrigues me and is often jotted down as fodder for a story or a character for a future book. I’ve had many interesting encounters with strangers in this way. We learn so much about expressions and emotions just by being casual observers. Your writing becomes richer all the time!


    1. Sherrey, I think it’s the writer within us. Some people are more interesting than others, but if we are careful to observe even the most “boring” people can become characters in our work. Thanks for your words of encouragement!


  2. Joan enjoyed reading about a passion of mine, Im a huge crowd watcher. I listen and peel comments and stories from unsuspecting strangers. I observe old people, as my characters in my novel live in an old folks home. By listening and watching I am learning. I also notice small details on faces, sorrow, happiness, and wonder about a persons story. Fun to read.


    1. Kath, we can learn so much from the older generation. I’ve always been fascinated by he World War II era, and sadly there aren’t many of those vets still living. Oh, the stories they could tell! Good point about noticing the details on people’s faces.


  3. I loved this post, Joan! 🙂 You are a beautiful writer.

    I also really love watching people. It’s crazy what kind of character you can find standing next to you in different public places.

    One place, I really don’t like going is Walmart.

    There are quite a lot of unpleasant people there, usually (and there are also some really nice people too.) But more often than not, I’ve met a few who were pretty mean. (I try avoid Walmart these days because of that.)

    When someone is mean to you, it’s pretty hard to just smile, and wish them a happy day? Isn’t it? But that Toby Mac quote is so so so so relevant and TRUE. Some of those people might just be having a tough time in life.

    It always makes me think about how much brighter we should be shining.

    Thanks for the good post. Look forward to more.


    1. Devin, it’s true when people are rude, I tend to want to be rude back (and I admit that often, I am.) My mother used to say, “Kill them with kindness.” But that’s easier said than done.

      I hear you on Wal-Mart. Although I live in a small town and it’s not as bad as some places, there are certainly some self-serving people there.

      The Toby Mac quote really made an impression with me and it’s something I need to remember often.



  4. Must be a writer thing. I’m a people-watcher, too. In fact, my coffeeshop story was based on something I witnessed.

    I love that Toby Mac quote. I need to be better at my road rage issues, too. I once read a story about a man on a bus who was frustrated with another male passenger who wasn’t minding his young children. The observer grew quite agitated and finally said something to the man, who seemed oblivious to his children’s wild behavior. The man answered with an apology, stating that they were returning from the hospital where his wife had just died, and he didn’t know what to do with himself or the kids, and he was sure the kids didn’t know how to process the situation. That story has stuck with me. We really do never know what someone else is thinking/feeling.

    Great post, Joan.


    1. Oh, that’s a heartbreaking story about the man on the bus. My ex sister-in-law lost a baby at 26 weeks pregnant. The day of the graveside service, she got a phone call from a telemarketer or surveyor. She tried to politely refuse (this was before caller ID, otherwise she wouldn’t have answered. The person on the other end kept insisting upon talking until finally Joy said, “Lady, I just buried my daughter.” The caller got very quiet and them apologized profusely. It’s so true, we don’t know what battles others are facing.

      I loved your coffee shop story. Thanks for the comment and encouragement, my friend.


      1. So sorry about the baby. That’s one of the hardest losses to get past.

        Thanks for the support of my writing, Joan. I’m touched that my story was met with so many supportive comments. And of course I’m always here for you. #<3theotters


        1. Staci, it was a difficult time for them. (And I know you’ve experienced this also.) Sometime, I’ll tell you a story of healing. It’s a story of two babies born nine years to the date apart and that shared the same first name. It’s a bit lengthy (and personal) to post here.


  5. I am a people watcher too! I love to watch strangers and try to imagine their stories. For instance, a few days ago I was driving on a narrow road in the country and I saw a man on the roadside, out of his car, reading a newspaper. He didn’t seem in need of help, his car looked fine and was well dressed (suit and tie), so he clearly wasn’t a farmer. I couldn’t help wondering… was he waiting for someone? A woman maybe? Was he involved in something shady? Or was simply a busy man who was in need of a break?

    Great post Joan, as always!


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