What do you see when you look at someone? The neat hair, the cared-for, well moisturized skin, a quick smile? Do you see their skin color? The shape of their teeth?
I look at people a lot. Make assumptions about them from their appearance, the way they speak, how they present themselves. See the contradicitons. Neat hair with dirty nails, well cared-for skin and black stumps of teeth. I find that like stars, most people fall into a main sequence. They fall on a broad political spectrum, as well as a broad social spectrum. But generally speaking, their appearance and speech reflect this. Other details will emerge, and sometimes it's even possible to guess of someone was an only child, what sort of relationship they had with their parents. It's not a difficult skill to acquire. Just be ready to ask someone some slightly over the line personal questions to test your assumptions.
The people who don't fall into that main sequence? They tend to be more interesting. They have changed in some way, come to a life-altering apiphany, or perhaps they were raised on different assumptions than the majority of Americans. These people are often interesting to talk to, because they have a different point of view. And these people are often fodder as a protagonist.
And this sort of sociopathic picking apart of people is what my latest story “The Neighbors Upstairs” is about. Is it possible to pick someone apart using just conversation? How much of ourselves do we reveal when we talk to strangers? How are people strange, and how can our own assumptions and our frame of mind interfere with the way we view someone else?
“The Neighbors Upstairs” is available in Urban Cthulhu, Nightmare Cities, edited by Henrik Harkesn.