Good dialogue is crucial to a story. Sadly in today’s big self-publishing world, it is suffering greatly as many authors are not focusing on developing good dialogue. To some, it is too hard and instead focus on descriptive scenes. Okay, that could work, but if you are going to have dialogue in your story, readers will demand it be good. What do I mean by that? It needs to be realistic and true to form. One of the best ways of creating good dialogue is to eavesdrop on conversations around you throughout the day.
Yes, your mother told you it was rude to eavesdrop. That is true when you are looking to discover what people think about you, and it is their private conversation. But you can still eavesdrop without being rude as long as it helps you write your own good dialogue.
On the Job
If you work outside the home, the job is a great place to eavesdrop. Trust me. I do it all the time. Honestly, you can’t help it most of the time. Sitting at my desk now I can hear about four different conversations going on. Co Worker A is on the phone with a customer. I can hear how she interacts with the different types of personalities. Co worker B is talking with another co worker. It is about an issue in the office. Another co worker is talking about their child and how they acted last night. A manager is getting heated over a repeated problem.
If you work outside the home, you probably have quite a few personalities around you. I have the ditz, the model, the grandma, the arrogant horse’s behind, and the wicked witch of the west. And probably everyone in between. Stop and listen to them as they work. Think of a character who has a similar personality.
If you travel for your job, you have an even greater advantage. You are exposed to a larger variety of people and interactions. You can watch hotel workers, airline workers, and taxi drivers interact. You can pick up on how they talk and interact with other people.
Let your job help you create your characters’ dialogue.
Unless you live alone, there is quite a bit at home to help you write good dialogue. I live in a house with a senior citizen, a man, and two teens. Add the fact that they all talk all the time, I get a lot of chances to eavesdrop.
I hear drama all the time. There is the thirteen year old girl who goes on and one about the drama at school. Then there is the sixteen year old boy who suddenly is a hit with the girls and now has a driver’s license. How about my husband, the high school teacher, recounting the drama of that world? Then there is my mother-in-law who is a grieving widow at retirement age. Think of what these four people can provide me for dialogue material.
In your house you have all sorts of situations that can arise. There are the early morning interactions which can vary person to person. There are meals, working around the house, gatherings, celebrations, and other occasions.
Listen in on phone conversations and the table talk. Don’t be rude or invasive, but just pay attention.
Oh, there is so much material here. Think of all the different age groups, educational levels, and backgrounds that come together in one place. This is a wonderful resource for writers.
Who comes to family reunions? There is the elderly grandparents who could range in age from their seventies to their hundreds. Even within that age range there are a lot of differences. They have a variety of personalities and backgrounds. Then you have parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. They are from all walks of lives, different educations, and at different points in their lives. Listen to what they say and how they react.
Every imaginable type of conversation can be had at family gatherings. People are telling people about the good and bad in their lives. They are catching up on old times. Gossip is spread. Old tensions are renewed. Young and old are interacting in a hundred different ways.
At a party? Eavesdrop! Again, don’t listen in on private conversations. I’m saying for you to sit at a table, in a chair, or at a bar and listen to the conversations going on around you.
In social settings, you can see people relax. They act different than they do in the office or in other settings. Notice the tone of the dialogue, the pitch, and how the body language changes. Keep all this in mind when you are writing your story. Your characters can still remain constant while changing based on the setting.
So many dialogue occurs around you even in public settings. Riding the public bus, shopping, going to a ballgame, eating at a restaurant are all public areas where you can benefit from eavesdropping. Watch how people act as they talk. How old are they? How are they dressed which might give you a hint to their economic status and maybe education? What words do they use? Are they using slang.
I can’t emphasis enough that the eavesdropping I’m talking about is not the rude kind. Don’t listen to find out information. That is none of your business. If the people involved in the conversation are talking low so no one can here, then leave them in peace. You should only be listening to those who are taking loud enough that anyone can hear what they are saying. Be observant. Don’t be rude.