One of my favorite pastimes, especially in the days before children when I didn't have to keep a constant watch on anyone whose safety I am responsible for, was people watching. I would sit for hours watching couples and families stroll by, singles out for a run or night with friends, crowds of people vying for coveted space at a picnic or concert. Sometimes I headed out alone and sometimes with a friend.
Some people were entertaining simply by their clothing (thank you 85-year-old roller skating man in hot pink short shorts and a neon yellow tank - you make a people watcher's day!), but most were relatively normal-looking so I would entertain myself by watching their facial expression and creating scenes in my head about the relationship or where they were headed.
I held no judgments for or against anyone I watched; I merely watched for the simple pleasure of curiosity and story-making. Today's writercize offers you a creative writing opportunity to read between the lines of a silent scene and determine the main character's main reason for being there.
writing exercise: Read between the lines of the following story and create a character study of who the woman is and what has happened to drive her to where you find her.
A tall, slender woman dressed in a meticulously ironed black sheath and red heels walks into a jewelry consignment shop. Her eyes are covered by large Audrey Hepburn sunglasses which she does not remove as she marches directly over to the man behind the counter. She stops for a moment to reach into her purse, pulls out a box containing the ring, opens the box, places it on the counter and slides it over with a nod. He pulls out a form to begin the consignment process, looks carefully over the ring with a magnifying glass and looks at her inquisitively as if to be sure she is prepared to part with it. She glances momentarily to the right, invisible behind the sunglasses, before nodding again. He points to the bottom of the receipt. She confirms the ring's value, signs the document and walks out with the cash.
Who is she? Where did she get the ring, and why is she in the consignment shop? Feel free to elaborate on or alter the story to suit your character's needs.
(Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.)writercizer response:
Allison has just discovered that the sapphire and emerald ring she fully believed to be a rightful family heirloom, storied to have been passed down for five generations from mother to daughter on the eve of her high school graduation, is a complete and utter fallacy. On a whim, she headed down to the Antiques Roadshow when they stopped through town to have it appraised. She didn't have any reason to find out the value; she saw no need to insure it since it was always on her right middle finger and she certainly wasn't about to sell a family heirloom, but she was curious to know more about its history.
It was at the Antiques Roadshow that she began to learn the truth about her family, the secret no one had spoken about, and possibly very few had known. The appraiser lifted her hand nearly to his nose to get a good view, and as he slid it off her fingers to inspect it more carefully he began to quiver slightly. She asked him why, but he called over the second appraiser for back-up before giving her an answer. Both looked carefully at the unique-looking ring with its bright blue and green colors set against a shiny platinum band, impeccably polished over the years, and agreed.
"Ma'am, do you care to tell me how you got this ring?" the first appraiser asked.
"Well, it's not terribly interesting. It's just a family heirloom, passed along through the women in our family when a girl graduates from high school. It's lovely, but it really has more sentimental value than anything else. Why? Can you tell me something about the style or who may have designed the ring? I'd love to know it's history!" Allison replied.
"Ma'am, I don't know how to tell you this, but you have in your hands the very ring that the Mrs. Astor had stolen from her stagecoach back in 1876. She had this ring commissioned to commemorate the day her summer house was completed. It represents the blue of the ocean and the green is for her good fortune. She was robbed along the way by a mysterious band of three women dressed as young men. In time, everything turned up and found its way back home to Mrs. Astor with the exception of this ring. It may look understated, but I can assure you, the value of this ring is astronomical considering it's original owner." the second appraiser said.
Allison was shocked. There was no way that her family could have purchased a stolen ring that all of the police were seeking, but what other way could it have come into her possession? Her great-great-great grandparents had been regular working class people, second generation immigrants proud of their hard work and educated children. She did some work sewing when the children were grown and he worked as a newspaperman. Right? That was what she had been told about its original owner, at least the woman she had believed to be the original owner. Somewhere there was a missing piece to this puzzle.
After much questioning, Allison learned that the ring had been determined lost forever, and the Astor family laid no claim to the ring anymore, but because of the story, its value would still be extraordinary.
Allison had gone home and begun to research her family. She discovered that not only had her mother been the first woman in the family to actually graduate from high school, but it was possible that the picture-perfect past that had been painted to her during bedtime stories growing up hid a more sordid truth.
Now that she was digging, she was disappointed, and keeping the ring felt somehow sickening. She could not blame her mother, for she did not know if the truth had ever been told to her, but she couldn't look at the ring without thinking of the deceit and embarrassment of her family's dirty secrets, so she made a decision to call up the local consignment jeweler, tell him the story of the ring and sell it to him. She would not keep the money. Well, maybe she would keep just enough to pay off a couple of debts; she did feel she was owed something for the dreadful knowledge, but the rest she would donate anonymously to a charity helping young women at risk.
Allison opened the door to the jeweler and walked in....