Friday, March 02, 2007

Listening In - The Gentle Art of Eavesdropping

My grandmother was head of the little-ole-lady hotline. She lived by her own version of the Commandments, especially the one pertaining to loving thy neighbor as thyself. To her way of thinking, you couldn’t love your neighbor unless you knew what he or she was up to. She perfected the art of observing and listening, often to the extreme.

As a writer, I follow in my grandmother’s steps, only without a phone pressed to one ear. I watch people. How they move. How they dress. And, most important; how they speak. When I first started to construct dialogue, I made the newbie-writer mistake of stretching for English-composition-class perfection. One editor pointed out the error. People do not speak in complete sentences, nor do they speak in proper English. Her advice: go out into the world and practice listening to the way others express themselves. Rarely, did I hear someone say, “I am going to do this.” Instead, I heard, “I’m going to do this.” Real people use contractions to save effort. In my area, I hear tons of dropped “g’s”. People aren’t “going”, they are “goin’”. Children use different terms than their adult counterparts. Then, there is regional slang; another story all together. Especially here in the Deep South, language is a colorful and malleable thing. In my writing, I depend on the subtleties to flesh out the characters and differentiate them from each other.

My point? Yes, I do have one. Read over your dialogue – aloud, preferably. If it doesn’t sound real, make it so. Each time you venture into public, take the opportunity to eavesdrop. No, you don’t have to be obvious. In this day of cell phone mania, practically everybody around you is screeching one end of a conversation, oblivious to the surroundings. Turn off your mouth and open your eyes and ears. Then, go home and put what you learn into your writing.

Rhett DeVane…aka Madhatter


Lori said...

Hi Mad,

Great post. Your comment about your grandma made me giggle.

I find it amazing what people on cell phones will say!

Thanks for the good advice.


Cheryl said...

Great post Mad! I have to share this story now. My son and I were talking about one of his ex-girlfriends and he said she was having guy troubles. He proceeded to tell me she was in a relationship he called, "friends with benefits". I had to ask him what this meant. I guess this is a current term for when people casually date and have sex without committing to each other.

I guess I better brush up on my active listening skills if I ever want to write for the YA market.

Thanks for some great advice Mad.


sherry said...

well Mad Dahlin' you speaak right up my alley.

Love it...aand I love to eavesdrop too...shhh, don't tell anyonee


Snow said...

Nice post mad.
although its rude I guess, I'll be eavsdropping more. LOL

snow :)

Kat said...

Great post, Mad. I've always listened to other folk's conversations because I can't seem to tune them out! Now I just take a mini notebook wherever I go, especially if I'm eating out alone. I've heard some great stories at Burger King and Applebees. :)