On a trip to a local discount store a 20-something young woman captured my attention. Wearing a baby on her hip, a cell phone on her ear and what appeared to be mail stuffed in the top of her tank top I was instantly intrigued. How would I as a writer portray this woman in a book? Then I began to hear snippets of her conversation I was even more intrigued. This young woman with her soft southern drawl was giving her listener a set down in a way that they knew she was angry, but she never resorted to yelling or saying one bad word. I found myself following the conversation and the young woman just to soak in this interesting character.
Since I had never done anything like this before I was feeling a bit uncomfortable with my behavior until I found this post on alanrinzler.com, The Writer’s Toolkit: Eavesdropping For Dialogue. It seems that I was following a time honored tradition used by such famous authors as; Norman Mailer, Tom Robbins, Charlie Haas and many others.
Listening to others speak is a great way to get an authentic feel for dialogue, especially if you are writing about a group different from your own. My current WIP is about a young hispanic girl, since I have never been a young Hispanic girl I find myself seeking situations where I can listen in on conversations to get the subtleties that I would normally miss.
Alan Rinzler also shares the following tips:
1. Write down the exact words whenever possible. That means always carrying a pen and paper or some other device for taking notes, like texting into a phone or typing on a laptop.
2. Try to get a glimpse of the speaker’s body language or facial expression that might reveal the true meaning between the lines.
3. Don’t throw anything away. What you’ve overheard may not be of immediate use to you but at some point in the future you may be working on something that could use precisely this line or something like it.
I wish I had a notepad that day to write down some of those great home truths she was throwing down that day, she was truly brilliant.
Writing on the Sidewalk