The structure of the short story “People-Watching” by Julia Gray is not necessarily a plot-oriented one. A traditional plot usually contains a sequence of events – exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution – which focuses on a single main event. 

“People-Watching” is a psychological story which juxtaposes a simple event – a conversation between two characters while drawing – with one of the character’s inner thoughts. The conversation Paul and Kajsa have about the English syntax and the logic of compound words like “people-watching” triggers in Paul a series of memories related to his sister, who died in Thailand.

Consequently, we can say the plot in the short story is hidden behind the outer actions of the two characters and is actually about Paul’s inner conflict regarding his sister’s death. Paul has not made peace with his sister’s problems and her subsequent death. He only makes peace with it after he finally manages to draw his dead sister’s portrait.


The title of the short story indicates that the text is probably going to be about the action of “people-watching,” but we do not know anything about who performs this action and the reasons behind it. When we look at the title after reading the short story, we realise it refers to the practical outer action, but also functions as a trigger for the inner conflict of one of the characters.



The beginning of the short story, or the exposition, introduces us to the setting and the characters, along with the triggering element which is Kajsa’s question about the compound word “people-watching”. Notice that the introduction is structured to introduce the action in the middle of events or in media res: ““Why do we say people-watching, rather than watching people?” asks Kajsa as they unfold their chairs.” (ll. 1-2);



The structure of the middle of the short story is interesting because it combines the two characters’ dialogue and their present actions with a backstory on Paul, rendered through inner monologue and flashbacks. 

For example, Paul starts thinking about the English syntax of compound words and his thoughts are rendered in a stream of consciousness or an unedited inner monologue: “…- why people-watching, not watching people – irritates him; he thinks it may be to do with predicates. Or inflected syllables. Or perhaps it’s about putting the noun first? His sister, who suffered for many years from eating disorders...” (ll. 38-41)



The ending of the short story includes the falling action and the resolution. The male character manages to make peace with the death of his sister through drawing her, solving thus his inner conflict.


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