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Why You Should Eavesdrop

I was having lunch with my girl child one afternoon at a McDonald's (don't judge).

The lady behind my daughter was feasting while talking on her cell phone. It seems she thought she was being treated unfairly at work. In reality she was the one (by my observation) expecting special privileges. Why should she have to use vacation days for doctor's appointments? It's not like she wanted to go! Once a week. For several months. She griped and justified  her boorish behavior for a solid twenty minutes.

In the olden days when people had manners, eavesdropping was considered rude if not criminal. In the modern age, if you are blasting your business in public instead of in private, the content is fair game.

So, why would I encourage bad behavior? Because it gives you material to work with in a number of ways.

1) Speech patterns and use of language.

The advice to writers is to make your characters sound unique so your readers can tell them apart. Listen to the way other people talk. What are their verbal ticks, rhythm, and cadence? What are their pet phrases? Ya know? Oh, yes you do.

2) Justifications

It's fascinating to listen to people justify their behavior. It's never their fault, but they usually reveal their part in the problem. Apply this to your characters.

3) Triggers

People on cell phones are often angry, especially in grocery stores. Go figure. They usually state at high volume what really pissed them off. Take notes. Maybe you can use the trigger in a story.

4) Age-Appropriate Dialogue

Nothing irks me more than a child character who sounds like a ninety-year-old granny. There are children all over the mall and in fast food restaurants. If you don't have a toddler or youngster of your own (or if it has been a while since you've had one), listen. Pay attention to what the child babbles about. Children are hilarious. It's not only informative, it's fun.

5) Relationships

You can usually tell if people are coworkers, friends, or relatives based on the dialogue. I once overheard a job interview and a guy trying to sell someone on a business idea.

I love watching couples in restaurants. Is it a first date? Are they feeling each other out and sharing basic information?

Have they been together a bit too long? What do they talk about? In one restaurant, I observed a woman reading a book while the guy focused on his laptop. Words were never exchanged except to the waitress when it came time to give their orders.

If you ever see me in a restaurant, fair warning, I am a writer. I may be listening and your conversation could be used in a book. You do, after all, have the right to remain silent.