Saturday, January 8, 2011

Listening In

We were sitting in a restaurant in Arkansas; the little boy behind me, voice laden with drawl, expounded on how good he was at "ropin'," and how he had his eye on a new Stetson that could be found at "Wahllgreens."

I smiled in delight and leaned forward towards Danny. "Are you hearing all this?" I asked.  "This is fantastic!"

Danny shook his head.  "I try not to listen to other people's conversations."

I didn't know what to say to that.  I live for other people's conversations.  They're one of my great joys in life.  Keeping in tune to others helps me keep my dialogue realistic, and reassures me of the quirkiness of others.  But my husband had spent a lifetime granting privacy to others, which made me feel guilty.

Until I read this and discovered - I'm not alone! And I agree with Connie - y'all are fascinating.  My favorite places to hear things tend to be dressing rooms, where people don't realize that even if you can't see everyone else, it's doesn't mean we're out of earshot.  Whether it's body image confessionals from angsty teens or cries of delight from little girls in dresses ("It's poufy and pink and it twirls!"), it's all insights into human nature.  Same for women's restrooms (as noted here).

And not to be left out, restaurants.  While sitting and working on a book proposal, I can't help but hear a young man speaking with great authority on the subject of breast feeding.  Not only does he spend several minutes expounding on said feeding, but he does so to two other young men and a woman.

Now, another moment's listening clarifies things to the point where I gather that they'r pre-med students.  But that's besides the point.

I write fiction; I make up stuff people say for a living.  But real life? There's no way I could match it.  Fiction is good, but life?

It's grand.


  1. Oh, Im glad I'm not the only one! I had to eat lunch alone once at an Italian joint and overheard the most entertaining conversation between the owner and a kid who wanted to apply. It was great material and of course I scribbled the more entertaining parts of the dialogue down on my napkin. There definitely is a tinge of guilt with it, but hey, we writers cant help what we hear;)

  2. I don't intentionally try and listen...but sometimes if it's so loud, than I can't help myself. It's amazing what you can learn about people when you just listen :) :)
    However, I must confess when I was work one the break room, I was having a conversation with a co-worker...and I noticed this lady at the next table very silently stop eating and turn her ear in my direction. So I purposfully said something really outlandish, because I knew she'd repeat it :) :) Very impish of me, but I couldn't help it :) :) :)
    Well, hopefully you have some good ideas for future books :) :) Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

  3. I don't listen intentionally, but sometimes you can't help but hear. And it can make incredible story fodder. Just the other day, in line at Taco Bell, I heard two construction workers discussing a German chocolate torte one had made from the "Shirley" Deen cookbook ("The older lady with the white hair and all the butter?" the other one asked... LOL) And then the discussion moved to how pizza was for eating on the couch, but nice dinners were for eating at the table. Best overheard convo ever. I have to use it somewhere someday.

  4. Oh, Hillary, I also listen in, for my writing. :) You get some of the neatest ideas that way.


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