Today’s writing exercise: Eavesdropping

Image source: Lynette Noni via Meme Generator

Image source: Lynette Noni via Meme Generator

The editing business is on hiatus while I’m working so much – but never fear, the writing continues! Today’s writing exercise for you is the eavesdropping exercise, which will help you write infinitely more realistic and believable dialogue.

I first did this exercise in uni under the tutelage of Grace Dugan, author of The Silver Road, and I really enjoyed it. (I think you will, too, or I wouldn’t be writing this whole thing about it.)

At Starbucks, or sitting near the group study rooms at the library, you can hear so much you never expected to – things that are so hilarious or shocking or sweet that you have to include them in your story.

“The great advantage of being a writer is that you can spy on people. You’re there, listening to every word, but part of you is observing. Everything is useful to a writer, you see—every scrap, even the longest and most boring of luncheon parties.” Graham Greene

Why is it so important to get your dialogue sounding right?

“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.” Elmore Leonard

Image source: Jeni Chappelle quoting Judy Blume,

Image source: Jeni Chappelle quoting Judy Blume,

What do you need to consider when trying this exercise?

(All quotes today came from Goodreads.)

Be subtle, keep silent.

“The key to good eavesdropping is not getting caught.” Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book

Definitely, definitely keep silent.

“There was some women in a café the other week that I was sat in, and she came up and she sat down with her mate and she was talkin’ loudly goin’ on about “oh the baby’s lovely.” They said it’s got, er, lovely big eyes, er, really big hands and feet. Now that doesn’t sound like a nice baby to me. I felt like sayin’ it sounds like a frog. But I thought I don’t know her, there’s only so much you can say to a stranger. I don’t know what kept me from sayin’ it.” Karl Pilkington


My eavesdropping exercise – the Binna Burra play script:



Father, 30-ish, looking stressed because mother is absent.

Son A, 7-yo, very excited to be out in the bush.

Son B, 4-yo, even more excited to be out in the bush.

Scene Setting:

Binna Burra BBQ picnic area.


SON A:         Dad, the turkey done a poo.

FATHER:       What’s that?

SON A:         The turkey just done a poo!

FATHER:       Oh, great.

SON B:          Yeah, he pood.

FATHER:       Why do you think he did that?

SON A:         I dunno. It’s just a turkey. Poo just fell off its bum.

[Pause as they all eat some chips.]

SON A:         Do turkeys bite?

FATHER:       I’ve never heard of anyone being bitten by a turkey.

SON B:          Turkeys do anything?

FATHER:       You see them walking around a lot.

SON A:         They just walk? Ooh, another turkey! Look, dad, another turkey.

FATHER:       That one has a scratch on its chest.

SON B:          Does it? Does it a scratch on its chest? [Pauses to think] Would the turkey hungry? Turkeys get hungry?

FATHER:       Probably. It would explain them hanging around so much. You always see them hanging around humans here.

SON A:         Could we feed it?

SON B:          Feed it? Turkeys eat chips?

FATHER:       No, I don’t think so. Don’t do that. Don’t throw the chips at it. You can’t feed the turkey your chips.

SON B:          Why?

FATHER:       They’re not good for turkeys. Chips are only good for humans.

SON A:         But I’ve finished my chips.

FATHER:       Well, that’s it. There’s no more.

SON B:          Why?

FATHER:       Let’s go get Mummy.

[End Scene.]


Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure this was the camping trip where it rained and I had to wear a poncho the whole time we were up there in the mountains.

I asked my Dad, “How do I look?”

He said, “Kind of like a demented elf.”

I love my Dad. 🙂


This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2015. Reblogging is always highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

One thought on “Today’s writing exercise: Eavesdropping

  1. Pingback: #infographic In case you missed it, here’s my favourite writing exercise: eavesdropping! To improve your dialogue, try this. This post is (C) T... - English Cheat Sheets

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s