Eavesdropping. It’s a ton of fun, really. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love it. Sometimes my friends will ask me, mid-eavesdrop, “What’s going on? Anything good?” They grin, knowing if there is anything good, I won’t hold out on them. I’ll relate it willingly.
You can engage in the practice yourself, no matter where you are. Personally, I find the best places to eavesdrop to be restaurants. People feel free to talk about anything and everything in restaurants–from break-ups to weddings to new babies to promotions to birthday celebrations, and all that occupy the space in between these subjects. Listening in is a great way to hear how different people use language, how they form and respond to dialogue.
Why is this important to a writer?
You can’t discover your new main character for that great novel you’re going to write until you can hear his voice, and before you can hear his voice, you have to hear him talk. Which means letting him talk, and allowing yourself to quiet your mind and listen. Eavesdrop. Figure out the story you’re meant to tell, and when you have a good handle on it, go tell it as best you can!
But you have to be willing to eavesdrop to begin with. Eavesdropping is key to writing someone or something real!