I do. I’m a serial eavesdropper. I just can’t help myself. If I’m at a party, or in a crowded restaurant, or bathroom stall, it doesn’t usually take long for me to be distracted by a nearby conversation. And it’s not because I enjoy gossiping – I don’t. Or that I want to know all your secrets – I don’t. (Well, maybe I’m curious about some of them.) It’s just that people fascinate me. The things different people care about, the way people talk, inflections, word choices, emotions …. Many writers confess to this same vice. After all – we write about human interaction. We want to develop characters that seem so real that our readers count them as friends (or enemies, as the case may be). We get our ideas from many sources – our own lives, news stories, other books, TV shows, and the things we see happening around us, every day.
I went to a party with my husband last weekend. After we’d been there an hour and he still hadn’t seen anyone he knew, I started teasing him that he didn’t really get invited, and we were actually crashing a party for free drinks and food. I didn’t mind. Because right next to us, a drama was unfolding. A woman’s ex-boyfriend had recently returned to San Diego and started working for the same company she did, and he was at the party. She was there with a new S.O. She hadn’t seen the ex since their relationship fell apart. She handled the situation like a chick lit heroine – she got tanked, and then got belligerent. Common courtesy told me I should look away, give the poor girl some privacy, and hopefully a chance to wipe her dignity up from the floor, where it had spilled with half of her martini. But in my mind, I was seeing a myriad of options for this story to play out on the page. I don’t write chick lit, but I may start. Or I could tweak the dialogue and context to fit a different genre.
So, if you see my eyes glaze over when you’re talking to me, please don’t take it personally. It’s not that you’re boring, it’s just that a writer’s mind is never at rest. And if it is you I’m eavesdropping on, don’t worry. I won’t tell your secrets. But you may trigger a new idea for a scene or conversation. Or, maybe some version of you will become my next hero or heroine.