Stop, Look and Listen

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Many writers tend to be introverted, but I don’t know if a person can say that about me. Well, maybe to a certain degree when I’m in strange crowds, but I reckon I’m actually somewhere between the two extremes. After all, I often got in trouble in school for being the class clown, even though nobody, especially teachers, thought I was funny.

As writers, however, we need to be willing to crawl out of our literary shells from time to time and get around people. Early in my career, I often visited shopping malls. There, I’d sit on a bench, observe and listen to shoppers. I’d even have a notebook with me on occasion and took notes. Some may consider this a waste of time. Even strange. It wasn’t. I was studying people – how they walked, how they talked, their body language, and their reactions to different situations. It came in handy later on when I began writing fiction.

How does studying people come in handy? Let’s look at one example. If we observe how a person gets angry, we can then use the way he/she demonstrated anger for one of our story’s angry characters. Not everyone yells when they’re angry, not everyone stomps their foot, and so on. Everyone is unique and thus, everyone shows his/her emotion in different ways. So, observation is one way we learn to improve our craft.

Listening is also important, especially for dialogue.  In addition to reading, study dialogue in movies and television. Movie scripts are, after all, primarily speech. Just as in novels, good dialogue is one of the hallmarks of a good movie or television show.

Of course, when we’re around people we can learn dialogue by engaging them in conversation. What are some unique expressions people use? Do they talk fast, speak slowly or use clipped sentences? Try to imitate these and other patterns in your characters’ dialogue. Also, observe peoples’ body language. Our stories will be all the better for it.

So take time to get out among the crowds. Take time to stop, look, and listen.

3 thoughts on “Stop, Look and Listen

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