Observation Game

It’s all too easy to get swallowed up in your thoughts—or your phone—as you go from place-to-place in a city like New York. When I travel I sometimes become hyper observant. But that is usually when I’m focused on street signs or landmarks because I’m almost always lost when I travel. At home, it’s very easy to sail by interesting sites and intriguing people. They become background scenery for the main event—a story I’m writing in my head, a grocery list, a business call I have to make…

Sometimes I fight the impulse to go internal and play an observation game. I’m guessing that trained observers, like cops, must do this naturally or, more likely, they train themselves to take in their surroundings in a quick sweeping movement.

My favorite observation game playground is the Union Square Farmer’s Market. All the produce and other products (honey, cheese, eggs, bread jam, cake, fresh herbs and more) must come from the area around the city. This time of the year there are wonderful apples, winter squash, mushrooms, leeks, etc. and in the summer it’s tomatoes, stone fruits, berries and peppers in abundance. I shop there once or twice a week. (It operates on Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays.) And I bring my coffee grounds and produce scraps to the composting station on the edge of the market.

It’s a great place to people watch. It’s crowded with locals, tourists, business people, NYU students, families, school groups and the occasional local reporter or photography class.

When I’m playing the game, I make myself look at faces and come up with quick one or two sentence descriptions. There’s plenty of time to do that when there’s a crowd buying fresh pasta from my favorite egg vendor or when competing farmers are giving away samples of peaches.

Why is the farmer’s market better than the park around it or the street? Because everyone is focused on comparing the prices of Jersey blueberries at adjacent stands, getting tastes of goat cheese, lining up a perfect photo of pumpkins or trying to get back to the office in a hurry. They aren’t looking back so I can look a little bit longer, think a little bit harder and then try to capture them in a quick sentence.

Do the faces wind up in my stories? Not often, but the exercise of creating quick descriptions is useful and that does show up in my fiction. I’m inviting you to play my game and, perhaps, share a writer game of your own.


Even I take photos at the Farmer's Market.

Even I take photos at the Farmer’s Market.


  1. I’m afraid my variation on the game is more boring than yours. On a Tuesday I catch a bus for a journey over the border which takes an hour. When someone gets on I try to guess why they’re making the journey and where they’ll get off the bus. Of course this only works with the strangers as many of them are regulars on their way to work. Some though are to old for work so I have to look at bags to see if they may be on a shopping expedition and just like going early as I do.
    Or perhaps they’re grandparents about to look after their grandchildren for the day. .
    Since I can’t talk to them I’ll never know if the potted histories I create are true or if it’s more interesting than I imagine.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Candy Korman

      I love that game!
      When I was growing up we’d play it making up stories about the people at another table in a restaurant or on a train (or bus). You just have to speculate quietly or it backfires.