|Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / Freedigitalphotos.net|
Yeah, that was probably me.
I admit it: I'm an eavesdropper, and today, for Blog Me MAYbe's "May I tell you something about writing?" day, I thought I'd talk about how listening to the people around me helps to strengthen my writing.
I can't help but overhear things. Writers are naturally curious, and sometimes I feel as though I have ears that are specially tuned to take in the words around me. I don't set out with the intention of listening to what other people are saying, but much of the time, the conversations just seem to come to me--a word or sentence strikes my interest and suddenly that conversation is all I hear. I've listened to random dialogues in restaurants and airports; I've overheard one-sided phone conversations in grocery stores and waiting rooms (and have had great fun imagining what the other person was saying); and last night I listened through my already-open window as the neighbors (loudly) fought in their backyard.
What I've learned from listening to those around me is this: people are complicated and often more bizarre than any characters a writer can dream up, and writers would do well to pay attention. Wonderful (and often useful) snippets of dialogue exist in overheard conversations, as do great story ideas. For example, one thing I overheard during my neighbor's loud argument last night was a man saying, "You better watch her. I gotta go to work." My imagination took off immediately: Who is he talking to? Is it his wife, or is someone else outside with them? Who (or what) needs to be watched--and why? I can think of several stories I could write based on this snippet of conversation alone.
(If you haven't heard any interesting conversations lately, check out a Web site like Overheard in New York, where people submit the things they've overheard in the course of their day. It's an excellent--and often hilarious--source of both story ideas and dialogue.)
What it boils down to is this: People are both more unusual and more normal than we can ever dream, and being curious and really paying attention to what people are saying can only strengthen our writing.
As they say, you can't make this stuff up.
Have you ever eavesdropped on conversations? Did any of what you heard end up in a story?