1. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Effective eavesdropping

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by w176, Jul 29, 2010.

    Dialogue can be tricky, and people who find it easy often just give the people that find it hard the tip to eavesdrop on conversations.

    I'm the sort of person that find both writing dialogue and eavesdropping easy. I just realised that just telling someone to eavesdrop is a worthless advice if you don't tell them the tips that is the difference between just sitting around overhearing stuff with effective eavesdropping.

    So please share you advice on this issue. How to listen in and analyse the dialogue going on around you.

    Personally I ask my self "How does it work?".

    Yesterday at the drug store I heard a conversation about soap for oily skin between an immigrant and the clerk, the immigrant not speaking enough Swedish for the subject and neither of them very good at English. Not very bad English either but on a level where discussing specific skin problems was a challenge. So i asked myself "How does conversations with a limited shared language work? How do they get the message across?" I begun listing carefully to their conversation, how they all the time made sure that they understood each other. Studying the pattern of smiles, affirmations and careful listening as well as sign language.

    Or last week when I was down at the gaming club painting and in the room next to me a really funny guy was making every one laugh and having a good time. He humour is rough and he was domination the conversation and I started to wonder: "How does this work? How can he dominate the conversation for hours with rough humour and manners and keep everyone is completely comfortable and happy with it? Why don't he piss people off? Why is he this really charismatic guy?" And started to listening in on on the pattern, trying to figure out how he pulled it off.

    For me, effective eavesdropping is about asking yourself questions about how things works and then trying to find the answer.

    How do you eavesdrop in the name of better writing?
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I often have some students who are able to influence and entertain the others in the class very easily. It can be hard to keep a straight face and keep things on track, they really are funny (usually guys). When I think about what they actually say though, and how I would render their exchanges as dialogue, I realise that a whole lot of it is their delivery--timing, putting on accents, etc, and their expressions, body language and general charisma. Very difficult to get over in writing.
     
  3. dragonspirit
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    dragonspirit Member

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    I would have to agree with madhoca.

    Often I overhear conversations that are quite funny when you are there, but even getting the point of it all across to others that were not, is hard. Let alone putting it in writing. I would really say, getting those kinds of conversation across to a reading audience relies heavily on the ability of the writer to create the image in the mind of said reader. By describing surroundings, gestures and general stature of the people involved in the conversation.

    Still without a shadow of a doubt I would say it is always useful to listen to many conversations, the more the better, so you can get a general feel of what makes it flow logically.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Pay attention to the pattern of the words, too. Does one person have a phrase they keep repeating? I mean, tike the way I prefixed this sentence with I mean. Does the person leave out words? Maybe he is favoring present perfect, especially if he is coming here from certain foreign countries. Does he nod or say, "Yes, yes" frequently to acknowledge continued understanding, or repeat back what the person said in different words (often a sign of an active listener). Does each person use simple sentences or does one prefer the endless compound sentence (sometimes to prevent being interrupted). Does each person stay on subject? Is each one on the same subject, or are they both monologuing each other?

    Take notes as soon as possible afterward, or you WILL forget. A digital voice recorder is great for note-taking. But don't try to take notes while listening - your full attention should be on the conversation, preferably without them realizing you are tuned in.
     
  5. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I love looking for mirroring tendency to and when people decides to don't mirror each other.

    The thing I'm talking about that two people agreeing and in tune with each other will start mirroring behaviour. For example by talking the same speed, have similar poses, gesture the same way and about as much as each other, use the same type of language. Even angry people tend to mirror each other sometimes (think of a nagging couple).

    And when people don't mirror each other its either gets very awkward (people with autism for example feels really weird to talk to) or a show of distancing oneself (think of a teen showing her parents that she don't want to talk).

    It such a small simple thing to do and give so much life to written dialogue.
     
  6. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I have a habit of analysing 'what' and 'why' others are saying what they say. My aunt, who rarely visit us, sometimes visit us with cookies and then she tries to strike small conversations with us, inquire about our health, praise us on our career successes, tell mom how lucky she is to have such good children, and then she'll ask mom for some some kind of help usually financial help. And then there are corrupt government officials who try to explain in a deliberate slow manner how the application I submitted will be pass on from one table to another before it finally reaches it's intended destination, prompting me to ask him of a short-cut which of course means paying him some cash.
    Sometimes this analysing is not so good in personal relationship (specially new relationship) as I found out to my peril :), but it has help me a lot in writing dialogues which show something about the character rather then just writing dialogues for the sake of writing it.
     
  7. Lightblinded
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    Lightblinded New Member

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    As with many things, we all do this to a greater or lesser degree. The trick is to be aware of the process. To have that perspective, to step back and seize the bits that float around in your mind as you listen to a conversation. When you have that you can put them in context and analyze them.
     
  8. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Absolutely agree with this.
     
  9. Zieki
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    Zieki Member

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    I loved reading this thread, made me realize that while I do partake in a good deal of eavesdropping, I must do more than just listen. I have to question and pay attention to the details of speech, movement, pacing, etc. Although I don't find my dialogue to be terrible, it is certainly something that could be improved and this will be a great way to do it.

    Thanks!
     

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