Eavesdropping

I will never apologize for eavesdropping on kids conversations. I’m not talking about a wiretap, just the words that stream out of their mouths when they seem to forget there’s an adult within earshot. It’s not like I need more material for stories. Twenty years in the classroom (that’s 180 days x 6 hours x 20) gave me a ton of ideas. I still work with middle school kids on a weekly basis, specifically bright underachievers, and their dialog sounds like a text message:

Boy #1: Hey J, whats up?

Boy #2: Did you see that high school kid? He’s like big enough to be a grown man.

Boy #1: Yeah, so I heard he’s a flunky.

Boy #2: Wow. My mom would kill me if I ever flunked.

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Be prepared for an abundance of “like,” “so,” and “awesome” when listening to this age group.

I also have the habit of eavesdropping in stores. Again, when a kid’s voice is loud enough to reach several aisles, I’m all ears, listening more for their pauses, along with the way their voice chimes in with wonderment and silliness. It’s the same MG voice I want to capture in my own stories that seems to have a motor all of its own.

A few days ago I was in a local Target store. It was also late in the afternoon and kids were everywhere tagging along with their parent. I needed several things, but my usual way of not having a written list was getting the better of me. My basket had five items but my mind said there were supposed to be six.

“Are you finding everything you needed?” This perky sales associate was not going to help my memory.

I went up and down aisles until reaching the chocolate aisle (wishful thinking). Coming the other way was a boy about 10-years-old and his mother. She was talking quietly into a wireless device when she suddenly stopped and handed the earpiece to her son. He spent the next several minutes in a priceless conversation overheard by at least a half dozen people. You couldn’t hear the other voice, but it was easy to fill in the blanks.

“Yeah, I’m here.” (I’m guessing one of his friends had called). The boy spun around then walked from one side of the aisle to the other. He was oblivious to anything else going on around him.

“Mom and I are getting everything for the inside, but we decided it’d be easier to let you do the outside stuff.”

This time a longer pause, but the young boy continued his trek back and forth, touching a shelf or two before changing directions.

His face soon was covered with a smile. “Sounds like a plan.”

Another pause. “Friday is going to be the best day ever.”

He stops and salutes. “Aye aye Captain. I’m awaiting your arrival.”

Now he was looking down. “Love you too, Dad. Be safe.”

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Great stories can come from listening to your target audience and even better, a happy holiday is in store for this military family.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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2 Responses to Eavesdropping

  1. Yeah, I am a great eavesdropper as well. I’m always a little surprised how unaware people are of how their voices carry. Sure is good for us writers though. 😎

  2. cleemckenzie says:

    I’ve picked up some awesome dialogue while leaning into a teen conversation. My family is always embarrassed and apologetic, but when they read my books, they “get” why I do it.

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