Sunday, May 02, 2010

Listening to People

We've all done it occasionally--interrupt a friend or acquaintance. Rude, but we are human, after all. The other night, my husband and I met someone who is positively the worst listener I've ever encountered. This person would ask a question, but speed on talking before anyone could answer. Or, the person would ignore the answer if it wasn't the one hoped for and keep talking as if the answer had been the desired one. No matter how many times I explained I couldn't do what the person wanted, this person kept talking as if I'd said yes. Aggravating! Annoying! But harmless. The experience made me think about writing. Of course, almost everything makes me think of writing.

Part of being a writer is learning to listen. How could an author write realistic dialogue without having paid attention to the way people speak? We take note of snatches of conversation overheard in crowded places and in our own conversations with other people. Writers listen to the rhythm and speech patterns of people from various backgrounds and parts of the country. In what ways does the speech of an urban person differ from that of a rural person? How are they similar? How does a New Yorker's sentence structure vary from that of a native Texan? Each of these differences is importance to writers. For me, sitting on a bench in a mall and listening to those around me is pleasant and feeds my muse.

I like to study the differences in speech patterns. For instance, a woman might say, "I'm going over to Penney's to look around for slacks and a shirt. If you'll wait here, I'll be back in thirty minutes or so." A man, on the other hand, might say, "Going to Penney's. Back in thirty minutes." In general, women speak in longer sentences than men. Listening and comparing is f ood for my writing. I never know what I'll hear.

Writers themselves sometimes become items of interest. Friends who were plotting a book while eating in a local restaurant were discussing how best to kill off one of the characters. Fortunately, they averted the police when they explained themselves to the alarmed diners at a nearby table.

Whether you're a writer or a student of human nature, pay attention next time you're in a restaurant, an airport, or a mall.  See if you agree with me.

Tomorrow I'll announce the Blogmania winner of my necklace and surprise gifts.

3 comments:

Rachel said...

Caroline,
I agree that trying to talk to people who are content holding converstations with themselves is frustrating. I've learned when dealing with these types to ask them lots of questions, smile, and nod. They are thrilled to keep their monologue going and I sit back and watch. Not even listen really-most of them don't care if you even understand what they are saying.
Good luck with the blogathon-I'm also a fellow blogathoner making my way through the first 60. There are so many great blogs out there!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Rachel, Ah, yes, the smile and nod technique. LOL Tried it many times. Thanks for stopping by.

Indigo said...

Thankfully I'm late deafened, so I had a lot of time to grasp voice nuances and gender differences before I went deaf. As a deaf woman, I've learned people speak with facial expressions, hand and body movement. It's a whole deeper way of listening.

Now if I could just get all those various descriptions to flow on the page, I would have it made. (Hugs)Indigo