Friday Speak Out!: Being Nosy Made Me a Better Writer

Friday, May 12, 2017

by H. Lovelyn Bettison

I've always been a bit of a nosy Nancy. Even as a child eating dinner with my family in the local diner, the conversation at the booth behind us seemed a lot more interesting than what was going on at our table. Then my eavesdropping was a bit more apparent. I'd turn around in my seat to face the people whose conversation I was not so discreetly overhearing. My parents didn't seem to mind, and I was a clueless five-year-old who hadn't yet mastered the fine art of eavesdropping.

As I grew up, I learned to be stealthier, but I still couldn't help myself. Some conversations are too juicy to ignore, like the tragic breakup I overheard at a truck stop when I was in college. I sat enthralled slowly eating my French fries as the sobbing woman seated in the booth behind me begged her boyfriend for a second chance. That incident inspired one of my first attempts at writing flash fiction.

Do you ever catch a little snippet of conversation and then find yourself wondering what on earth is going on? You overhear the guy walking by you on his cell phone say, "That would be a perfect place to hide a body." Propelled by curiosity, you follow him for a few blocks trying to hear every word he says into his phone. Then you realize that if he notices what you're doing, he might be trying to hide your body next. That's never happened to me either, but wouldn't it be interesting if it did?

Friends and family find my habit of overhearing things a bit annoying, but when it came time for me to write my first novel, I realized that I wasn't nosy I was studying. Listening in on other people's conversations helped me understand the ebb and flow of natural dialogue. I paid attention to the type of words people used when they spoke to each other and how they paused in between those words. Various speech patterns and cadences were second nature to me.

If you find yourself struggling with dialogue, go out and practice your nosiness. Eavesdropping can do more than improve your written dialogue; it can inspire new plot lines. Visit your local coffee shop or the grocery store with a purpose in mind. See how many snippets of conversations you can overhear. I like to make this into a bit of an exercise.

I'll go someplace and listen to the people around me until I find a fascinating piece of conversation It could be something totally outrageous that makes me wonder, or it could be something a bit more mundane said in an unusual way. I like to use those pieces of conversations as jumping-off points for stories.

Don't be shy. Get out and start eavesdropping today. When it comes time to write your next story, you'll be glad you did.

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Friday Speak Out!: Being Nosy Made Me a Better Writer
 is a writer who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She writes subtle love stories with supernatural elements. Find out more about her books on her website.

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Angela Mackintosh said...

I happened to be forced into an eavesdropping situation yesterday. My therapist had double-booked one of her time slots, and I showed up for my appointment, but someone was already in session with her. I thought they were just running over their time, so I made some tea and sat in the waiting room. You can hear everything from's just a room with no receptionist, a library, chairs and a beverage bar. After about 20 minutes, I realized that she must've booked our appointments at the same time. But I did overhear some interesting dialogue that could help with a story I'm working on. :) Thanks for the post!

Renee Roberson said...

Angela, I heard a screaming match from what had to have been a couple having marital problems at a therapist's office once. I was waiting in the lounge area and couldn't help but hear everything through the walls. The sad thing is, when they came out, they were with a toddler. I felt so bad for that child who had to hear their grievances in such a loud fashion.

This is a great post, and so spot on! I am naturally nosy too and it helps me be a good reporter. I feel like I'm able to dig deeper into an interview with someone and dig out those fascinating tidbits. And it is awesome when developing dialogue!

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