Thursday, August 20, 2009

Eavesdropping for Fun and Profit

“There's nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head”
~~Thornton Wilder quotes

"And that's why I am single," ranted the aesthetically unpleasing hawk-faced woman, concluding what must have been a grand rant on the flaws of men, in a booming, masculine voice, shaking her head vehemently.

I wanted to run to her, to explain that whatever the contents of her rant had been, I could likely give her five legitimate reasons why she is single, none of which have anything to do with others, all of which had to do with herself, and all of which are likely fixable. (Hubris, anyone?)

But I didn't. I was eavesdropping, and one of the top rules of eavesdropping, after Do Not Get Caught is Do Not Engage.

As a writer, I am fascinated at the things people say in public, things which other people can hear. Sometimes I wonder if the speaker(s) are aware that they can be heard, or if they care. I tend to be loud when speaking and am sure I amuse people with that which falls unexpectedly out of my mouth, but on some level I am aware of this, and rarely ever say anything which I might find embarassing later. But some of the things I overhear....

Here's the thing: I steal that which I overhear. All the time. I scribble things down in a notebook, or if one is not handy, make a note in my cell phone as a reminder Not To Forget Funny Thing Heard At Coffee Shop. Sometimes these things show back up in stories I write, though not always in the same exact form.

In my cell phone notes right now, in fact, are two items said directly to me by a friend, to which I replied "I'm stealing that," and promptly wrote them down. I am happy my friends indulge me in this trait, which has been dubbed Conversational Shoplifting, by yet another pal, from whom I have lifted many interesting phrases, including the title for this blog.

Two stories I am currently working on, "Fate is an Alpha Chick" and "Dora Garcia Dreams" both started with phrases overheard -- that which I overheard served as inspiration for plot and character.

I find eavesdropping to be integral to my process as a writer, regardless of the fact that it is considered to be rude by many. I refuse to apologize for where the muse drags me. And the muse brought me to the Single Lady, who will likely show up in a story in the near future, in which I will likely be able as the writer to say all the things to her which I could not as eavesdropper.

What is integral to your process?

The final snippet: "You'll never guess what I got to smell!" (Overheard at Marlowe's on the 16th Street Mall in Denver)


  1. I'm a visual person and am constantly looking for anything that will spark my creativity. Enter: my cell phone camera. Sometimes it's a person whose look I just have to capture or it may be a street corner or architectural feature that I'd like to translate into my writing. This isn't as easy as it sounds, especially when it comes to surreptitiously clicking a pic of the guy with the unique body art two tables away. No one's ever approached me, demanding to know why I'm taking their picture but I have clicked and run on a few occasions, just in case.

  2. Ha -- I love that! I actually do mini character sketches while I people watch -- I am really visual but love to capture the essence of what I have seen in a few short phrases....