Well, kind of. The author practices it all the time. We study others, learn about human nature while delving into the secrets most people would rather not have known. We become amateur psychologists, sleuths and general observers. And all this is just so that our characters can have depth. We can’t just sit and chat, content with the surface. We have to delve, to try to see into people, to interpret their words, gestures. Some authors are very social, enjoying the company of others and ready to talk in a lively manner, but others just sit back and observe, speaking little but hearing much.
I tend to combine both kinds of authors in a social situation. I can, when necessary, give the appearance of just chatting, but the talk is a cover for what’s happening beneath it all. And if there are lots of people about, I can sit back, in the shadows as it were, simply absorbing everything around me. Now don’t get it wrong! I’m not (normally) judging, beyond knowing virtually instantly whether I like somebody. It’s instinctive, this plumbing the depths of others. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t do it. There are times when I wish I could switch it off. There are dangers, you see. You may discover something about a person that makes you more than dislike them, something dark, sinister. Then, too, you are aware of the emotions of others, and there are situations when that can have a devastating effect on you, such as at a funeral. You may not be opening yourself to others, but very strong emotions can break through any walls you may protect yourself with.
This gathering of intelligence on human nature may seem immoral, but it’s part of what makes a writer what they are. Of course, the intelligence can be abused, by writing characters that are readily identifiable as real people. There have been authors who have hurt people, often friends, family, acquaintances and neighbours. In fact, the intelligence that has been gathered should actually go into a melting pot, to blend in such a way that characters emerge, fully developed but totally fictional. That’s what it’s all about. We need this intelligence if we are to create characters that aren’t simply variations on ourselves, our family members, or fictional characters we have encountered in our reading.