New York City Subway Series: Character Development through Shoes

February 1 by

New York City Subway Series: Character Development through Shoes

Recently, I visited New York.  We spent a lot of time moving from place to place via the subway. If you’ve never ridden the subway in New York, I highly recommend it.  If you’re a writer, photographer, or artist, I would go as far as to say riding the subway is a MUST. Yes, it’s dirty, it’s loud, it’s crowded, it can be smelly and tight and frustrating.  But, it’s a great place to people watch.  Every possible walk of life moves through New York by that means of transportation.

This is the second in a series of three.  The first was about journaling. This one?  This one is about shoes!

We stayed in Brooklyn at a great little “brownstone” AirBNB, so, we took the train/subway into the city every day.  On the first morning we took the trip, we wound up sitting at the very back end of one of the cars.  Though we’d had breakfast, I was barely awake, and so pretty much staring into space, when the shoes of the person sitting across from me caught my attention.  Shining black leather, though a little rough around the edges from wear, and they were studded with spikes across the toe!   One foot tucked back a little under the seat, and the other leg stretched out across the aisle of the car toward me, with these shoes!  I glanced up to see what the person wearing the shoes looked like, and it was a woman.  She looked to be about my age (50ish).  She wore black jeans, a black shirt, and a black jacket of sorts.  The only flashiness to her outfit was the shiny, studded shoes.  She wore her hair cut short and close to her head.  Her skin tone was a deep black, not shiny but matte, and completely unblemished.  She exuded confidence and a “don’t even think about it” attitude, even though she never looked up from her phone.

I thought to myself, she’d be a great heroine for a story.  Strong and quiet with kickass shoes! Perhaps the shoes were her weapon of choice?  Not a joiner, but someone who could be counted on to do what was necessary when called upon for action.

The next evening we were traversing the subway system back to Brooklyn.  The trains were packed, with people standing in the aisles, and a lot of kids riding the train.  As we moved through one leg of the journey, a group of twenty-somethings got on.  Some of them sat across from us.  I didn’t pay much attention to them.  They were cute, and hip, and seemed well behaved (not always the case).  But, as I sat there thinking about the day, I noticed one girl’s feet.  Nothing all that exceptional about her sneakers, it was the way she had her feet positioned more than anything else.  She had them tucked a bit, and they just seemed to lack confidence.

When I looked to see the person wearing the shoes, she was a tiny little thing (though her shoes made her feet look bigger than I think they really were).  She had an Asian look, with flawless porcelain skin and almond shaped eyes.  Her black hair hung straight down the sides of her face, almost obscuring everything but the center of her face.  She was, of course, completely engrossed in texting, but she laughed easily as she read and responded.  But her shoulders were hunched, she seemed to almost fold in on herself.  Though she was already small, the way she sat, it appeared that she was trying make herself even smaller.  So in spite of her easy laugh, she seemed a little sad, a little less joyous than her smiles might have implied.  And when she looked up from her phone, the laughter faded pretty fast.  Her eyes became alert, and watchful.

I thought about what a contrast this person was to the other person whose shoes caught my eyes.  This little girl wouldn’t play a heroine, not in the way the studded shoe lady would.  This girl would be the pawn in some game who held pivotal information.  She would have to be saved, protected, and the hero would most definitely fall in love with her, but, ultimately, would not be able to have her.

These two women created quite the contrast in my mind, solely based on their shoes.  And I could easily create character profiles based on my observations of them, even as fleeting as they were.  The subway is FILLED with this kind of opposition in personage, dress, attitude, and look.  Where some stand out as individuals, some shrink to fit into the world around them.

What do you notice about the people around you?  Do you pay attention to those folks sitting across from you in the coffee shop, the restaurant, on the bus, or at the airport?  Do you take note of things that could later be used to build a character for a story?



Cathy Lynn

About Cathy Lynn

Cathy Lynn is an artist, writer, executive trainer, and the co-owner of Inkwell Basics. She has published two coloring books, Conscious Coloring and Carnal Coloring. She's currently working on a novel, and turning her farm into an event venue. She previously blogged at 3 Shared Paths, a personal growth blog that was read worldwide, and has been blogging for over 10 years. She lives somewhere between the city and the country with her three cats, Sebastian, Miss Kitty, and Ella.

1 Comment

  1. Awesome post, love the descriptions. I also love riding the NYC subway…Only way to go:-)

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