Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Eavesdropping Isn't Nice (Cough), But It's Great for Coming Up With Ideas for Stories

From How to Get Inspiration for Creative Writing:
“… I've never seen her so angry before.”
“If Frank hadn't been around, I don't know what…”
When you take a walk or sit down in the park, you will hear a lot of snippets of conversations. Some of these can inspire you to come up with your own stories, if you ask yourself further questions, like:
Why was she angry? What had happened to her? How did she show her anger?
And then, depending on your genre, ask even more into the matter:
Romance: Did he cheat on her? With whom? What was the consequences?
Horror: How did her anger play out? Did she brutally kill him with a wood-shredder? Did he come back as a ghost to haunt her?
Even if you can't hear or understand the surrounding people, you can find inspiration in their body language. Are they agitated? Why? Make it up. Are they happy? Relaxed? What will happen next?
You don't have to have a notebook and pen with you, but go over good ideas in your mind many times. And as soon as you get home, write down your inspiration.

By coincidence yesterday for my creative writing class at work, I did something like this. I got the idea from this book. I have an earlier edition, which I got when it came out in 1995. I have been using ideas from this book for the class as well for myself. The exercise is entitled "Legitimate Eavesdropping." The participants in my class and I went across the street to a coffee shop for about 20 minutes to take notes on what we could hear.  I warned them to be inconspicuous as they took notes. I managed to sit down at the coffee shop and take notes without anyone suspecting a thing, including two girls nearby me who were working on a laptop. Others I saw and observed from a distance, including the workers at the counter and some customers they were talking to.  
After about 20 minutes, the class then returned to our center and wrote down what they had observed. Most of them thought the  exercise was fun, since we go to go outside of work to do some writing. I now have other writing exercises planned that will require going outside or to the coffee shop or other nearby places. 

 I also came across this blog post today:
Eavesdropping 101:

Norman Mailer eavesdropped on strangers’ conversations. So did J. D. Salinger. Tim Robbins does it, too. If you browse writing tips from great authors, you’ll discover that many suggest eavesdropping as a legitimate writing tool. 
This idea of listening to conversations may sound appalling, but the truth is that most writers can’t help but eavesdrop. When they listen, they pick up not only unique snippets of dialog but also story ideas. Add people watching, and you’ll find a surfeit of characters clamoring to find their ways into books and stories. 
There are several good reasons why writers eavesdrop. 
If working on a story outline, then go where your characters might go. Listen, watch, and take notes. This helps to develop characters’ physical descriptions and personalities. It also provides clues about how characters interact within certain settings. When eavesdropping, pay attention to the flow of the voices, the pitch, volume and cadence. Take note of slang and regional dialect. If you hear a great line, jot it down word for word. You might want to use it someday.
Maybe you’re in a full-blown writer’s block and need story ideas. One way to break loose is to spend a day or two eavesdropping and people watching. Restaurants and coffee shops are perfect for eavesdropping. So are waiting rooms, hotel lobbies, and public transportation. Kid-friendly venues, like playgrounds or public swimming pools, are venues for parent-child/child-child conversations and humorous anecdotes. Quiet places, like libraries and museums, work for scholarly and serious dialog. Experiment. Take yourself on eavesdropping adventures to places you otherwise might not go. 
Thornton Wilder offered the best reason to eavesdrop. He said, “There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head.” Some of the best story ideas come from observing the everyday life of people around you. As the saying goes, Truth is stranger than fiction.
I admit that I’ve been eavesdropping for years. Here are a few humorous snippets from my files:
Farmer in a rural cafe: “I nearly run over my wife in the cornfield this mornin’.”
Waitress pouring coffee: “What the heck was Ruth doin’ in the cornfield?”
Farmer: “Said she was lookin’ for somethin’ that flew off the porch last night.”
Woman talking on her cell phone on the train:
“Before you fold the laundry tell Mark to take his underpants off the dog.”
Doctor’s waiting room:
Woman 1: “…then he went to Italy and saw the Parthenon.”
Woman 2: “You mean the Coliseum.”
Woman 1: “I thought he said the Parthenon.”
Woman 2: “The Parthenon is in Greece. The Coliseum is in Italy. It’s where Daniel was in the lion’s den.”
And a few strange (but real) names I’ve gathered along the way:
Christina Pickles,
Ruby Knuckles,
Baldwin Bump, and
Pastor Peacock
 So what are you waiting for? Get out there and eavesdrop!

So now I know this is not an unusual idea, if famous writers have done it. 


Sandra Cox said...

Fun post and fun exercise for the class:)

Elephant's Child said...

I freely admit to eavesdropping and people watching. I don't use it, but I do it all the time.
Some of the things people are prepared to say, in public, to their phones, blows me away.

Sandra Cox said...

Love the names:)