By Jeffrey Hedquist
You can’t help it. When you hear an interesting conversation nearby, you try to catch what’s going on. It’s like peeking through a keyhole into someone else’s life. This is an exercise you already engage in. Here’s how to make it productive.
Take a moment to write down what they say. Speak the words if you can into that unobtrusive recorder you carry with you for just such occasions. At least write down as close to what they say as possible, maybe a 20-30 second snippet of conversation. Keep these audio snapshots as idea starters or reminders of speech patterns.
The waitress’ conversation, the construction crew as they interact while fixing the deck on your house, the mechanic explaining what the problem is with your car, the doctor breaking hard news to a patient, a retailer explaining to her son what she does, the musician trying to explain the meaning of a song, a mom relearning math as she helps with her kid’s homework.
Each will have a different style, pace, timbre, flavor. Each of those qualities comes from the elements and experiences that make up their lives.
With just these short records of conversations you have enough information to create back-stories for each of the people.
Keep these bits together in a file so you can pull them out when you start writing. As you create your spot, match a couple of these characters from real life and see how the contrast or compliment of their styles makes for an interesting story. They’ll keep you from writing dialogue that sounds like “a commercial.”
It’s a way to break writers block. It’s a way to create magic. It’s a way to make sales.
© 2002 Hedquist Productions, Inc.