Listen In - writercize #91

I’ve written before about the sheer pleasure of writers to people-watch and construct the lives of strangers, but this writercize takes people watching one step further, right past the nosey line.  It’s listening in to tidbits of conversations from those around you, gathering random bits of information from strangers as they sit nearby at a restaurant or take a walk outside. 

It could be the pair of girlfriends out for a run while you sit on the bench to tie your shoe, the guys out to celebrate a victory game at the tavern, friends chatting over a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop, the couple in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. 

Although those being eavesdropped on may disagree, it’s a great way for writers to pick up on realistic dialogue and understand the psyche of a wide variety of characters.   People will sometimes share quite a bit – I once overheard an entire first date conversation between two middle-aged people who shopped at Costco.  They discussed at length how they would separate items out of the package and have to freeze portions so that the food wouldn’t spoil before they’d have time to eat it all alone.  The entire conversation oozed loneliness; it was a declaration of why they so desperately sought companionship, even that of a blind date who otherwise had nothing in common.  Good stuff.

I’ve heard juicy details about fights with roommates, nasty anecdotes about bugs and rodents that really just shouldn’t be shared anywhere near anything edible, women bemoaning their boyfriends, people being snarky about friends who have just departed or are soon to arrive, snuggly talks of amore, political debates. 

All of this is good because it is what we as humans think about and worry about on a daily basis, and while a good story focuses on the bigger events and conflicts scattered about, the insertion of true-to-life dialogue will give the reader someone to relate to.

writing exercise:  Listen in to a snippet of dialogue the next time you are out.  Use a sentence or two from the exchange to inspire your own creative conversation.  If you are terribly uncomfortable listening in, or if you do not have the opportunity to do so, turn on the TV and tune into a reality show or sitcom and grab a line of dialogue from that.

Click “read more” for writercizer sample response.
writercizer sample response:

original statement:  "Oh man, I really wanted a bear claw!!"  (overheard exclamation by customer entering Cannon Beach Bakery in Cannon Beach, OR)

Although this client was referring to the tasty baked treat that was sadly sold out that afternoon, along with the apple cinnamon bread I was craving, I'm going to go ahead and take it right out of context for the writercize dialogue ...

Here goes:

"Oh man, I really wanted a bear claw!" Joshua exclaimed, rummaging through the prize bins at the county fair bottle toss.

"A what?" his mom asked.

"You know, a bear claw.  For luck," he said.

"For luck?  A bear claw?  Joshy, I've never heard of that."

"Yes, a bear claw.  On a key chain.  Bobby has one down on the corner, and it's furry and black and he said that his uncle gave it to him after a hunting trip.  He brings it to every baseball game and we all toss it around for luck.  It's so cool.  I want one too."

"Joshy, how big is this bear claw that Bobby has?" his mom asked.

"Umm, well, it fits in his hand.  Maybe like palm-sized, or a little smaller.  The nails sort of poke out."

"Joshy, are you sure you don't mean a rabbit's foot?  I think you might be talking about a rabbit's foot."

"Oh yeah.  You're right mom.  Man, I always get those confused!"

"Mmm-hmmm.  Big bear, little bunny.  I can see why ..." Mom rolled her eyes a little bit and let out a chuckle as Joshua picked out a bouncy Koosh ball instead.

1 comment:

  1. Original statement heard at the OC Fair: "Don't. They got people who do that. No, don't. They'll pick it up." It was a group of two guys and two girls standing around, drinking their beers from a plastic cup. Apparently one of the girls dropped her napkins and attempted to pick them up but one of the guys in her group said the above.

    It was 5 O'clock by now and they were on their third and last round of beers before they had to leave the fair and be back home to get ready for tonight's rehearsal of a contemporary interpretation of Dante's Inferno.

    Suddenly a Santa Ana gust made an early appearance at the fair and snatched Sedona's napkins from the clutch of her slim hands, tossing them angrily on the floor in front of her. As she began to bend to pick them up, Jeff said to her "Don't. They got people who do that." She stood back up and thought for a couple of seconds about what he had just said. She knew it wasn't right.

    Her convictions would not allow her to act like a pig, not even at a fair. As she started her decent to reach the napkins on the floor for the second time, she heard again "No, don't. They'll pick it up. They got people for that." Sedona knew better, and this time she didn't stop. She retrieved the napkins and as she walked towards the trashcan she knew she had to reconsider Jeff.


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