Quiet Observation is a Writer’s Tool

Conversation Is Story.

By Annette Rey

Are you – short on ideas – stumped on character development – unable to complete dialogue – at a loss on detailing scene? Answers for these areas are a car trip away.

This exercise requires anonymity. Mimic the fly on the wall. Be in the present.

Use your ears. Listen to the people next to you in a public place. You might be fortunate enough to hear a couple discussing something serious or a group discussing a family problem. Even a casual conversation can give you clues for structuring dialogue.

So, I’m advocating impolite eavesdropping? Not exactly. This listening is not for the purposes of voyeurism, but to hear first-hand the type and style of communication in which various people speak. The role of uninvolved listener gives you an advantage you do not have when you are a participant. You may think you acquire enough exposure to conversation in your daily life to record it accurately. But the act of participating in a conversation brings too many mental distractions to catch every word and innuendo that occurs.

Use your eyes. People are very interesting when you truly observe them. Note how a person puts together color, style of clothing, jewelry. Does a large man choose a large-faced watch? Does being stylishly-dressed seem to dwindle as one ages? Does the person’s style make a statement? Do you think the statement is intentional or unintentional? Are they dressed or acting in a quirky manner, or are they dressed in a standard conventional way for the locale?

Use your intellect to evaluate the unfolding scene which can be anything from a Fourth of July celebration to a funeral. Can you infer what your subject is thinking by the behavior he elicits? Do facial expressions give you a hint to what someone is saying if they are too far away for you to hear? Notate if the face is expressionless. Does that tell you something about him? Does he appear to be guarded, suspicious, uncaring?

Use your emotions to pick up the sense of what your subject is projecting. Can you empathize with emotions you hear her revealing?

Touch what you see your subject touch. Is she turning over a hard piece of jewelry in the mall as she converses with her companion? Is her language hard at the time? Perhaps she is caressing a soft baby blanket and has a gentle smile on her face – or contrasting – soft item, harsh words?

Be aware of scent. Is the air filled with the odor of sweet confections? Can you taste the gasoline fume-filled air at the roadside beside the park? These stimuli are also, perhaps, affecting your subject.

What is the environment you have chosen to conduct this exercise? Ask yourself why you chose this particular place. Maybe that will tell you something about yourself.

Consciously heighten your senses as you attend to this exercise. Information you collect can be part of your written work or affect the aura of your story. Other information can be put in reserve and applied to future works.

There is nothing like observing reality to stimulate your ability to record the written word, whether fiction or non-fiction.

Conversation is story.


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