“I’m sick and tired of hearing Tiger Woods,” the older of the two guys said. There is a black dog, maybe a German Shepard sitting next to him. He is wearing round glasses, the color of the bright orange sun just as it sets over the horizon. “Every time I turn on the TV, it’s Tiger Woods this, Tiger Woods that.”
This was the beginning of a journal entry in my writer’s notebook dated in April 10, 2010. My goal was to go somewhere public and eavesdrop on other people’s conversations so that I could capture their realistic dialogue. This was an exercise we did when I took an online creative writing class and I found it to be quite helpful. The writer’s journal was quite useful as well because it kept me constantly thinking, observing and analyzing situations as a writer. I always have a notebook with me wherever I go for recording observations, recording snatches of dialogue or just writing down random thoughts that occur to me.
The guy goes on to say, “I’m sick of hearing his name and sick of seeing his face,” then he laughs. It’s a joke. He’s blind.
His companion does not laugh.
“I almost got hit twice in the last week,” the older guy moves on to a new subject. “I was walking across the street and had the right of way. I could feel the wind of the cars as they passed me. We had the right of way and they couldn’t wait until we walked all the way across the street.”
There’s a bit more of the exchange between the two guys, but I think you get my point. I was able to capture the nuances and content of what is natural dialogue between these two people.
Fast forward to a couple of days ago, February 28, 2013. I decided I needed to do the exercise again. Over time the way people talk and communicate can change and also it’s a good exercise to make yourself active aware and observant of what other people say, how and why. So, I happened to be in the DMV and just started listening.
“Quinn get over here,” a clearly exasperated mother exclaimed numerous times. “Get over here boy and sit down!”
“Be quiet! Boy, I said shut up!”
Those are just snatches of dialogue I captured that day. The lesson that day was different. Conversation is determined as much by the setting as it is by the people involved. The next time I want to capture realistic dialogue to ensure that my characters sound authentic and not stilted, I won’t go to the DMV unless I am writing the character of an young, impatient mother who has not learned how to effectively deal with her child’s energy in a public place. I don’t know why she interacted with her child in that manner, but on that day the writer in me didn’t even want to try and imagine.
My point: This activity is very beneficial to any writer who wants to ensure that he or she is writing authentic dialogue. Just take your writer’s journal and go sit anywhere. And eavesdrop.
Not only is this exercise beneficial for capturing dialogue, it’s always a good way to capture atmospheric observations. These observations can be added to a story or novel to provide a true sense of the environment in which the character exists.
What are you waiting on? Get your writing journal and go! Stop procrastinating and get it done.