Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Where are all the Sour Patch parents?"

Upcoming Activity of the Week: "Physically alter a page: (i.e. cut a hole, pour tea on it, burn it, fold it, etc.)." This one should be fun!

My assignment to Spice Up My Writing this past week was to record an overheard conversation. I really wanted to just make my character do this one, especially because I had a good place in my current story where I thought having my character record a conversation could lead to a key clue in the mystery. But since it's my first attempt at getting Spicy, I figured I should try the activity myself too.

In the comments of last week's post, BookChic suggested that I make sure to have a good cover, so if anyone approaches me I already have a good explanation as to what I was up to. So in addition to having a cover story, I also chose to have a disguise. The best disguise I could think of was to look so perfect and angelic that no one would suspect anything out of the ordinary.

So, when we were offered tickets to the Philharmonic Orchestra this week, I thought it was the perfect opportunity. Who would suspect someone was going to record their conversation at the orchestra? I put on my best outfit and smile in the attempt to look as much like an upstanding citizen as possible.

Luckily, my iPhone has the capability of recording memos. Not only did it save me from attempting to stuff an oversized tape recorder into an evening purse, but it also gave me the perfect opportunity to just pretend I was playing on my phone, instead of being covert and recording conversations.

So with my phone in hand, throughout the night at dinner and the show, I made a conscious effort to actively listen to people’s conversations. I didn’t know what type of conversation I would find worthy of recording, but I figured I’d realize it when I heard it. And this is what I discovered:

  1. I really should consider getting some Sonic Earz because trying to hear people from a distance is very hard. Even when they are only two seats away.
  2. If attempting yourself, make sure your companion knows. Because trying to maintain a conversation, while also listening to your neighbor's conversations is quite tricky. You start to feel as if you are juggling voices.
  3. Trying to find a good conversation to record was about as easy as trying to find a good pair of shoes when you have the money and the need. It always seems when you are on the hunt that it’s impossible to find anything good.
The closest thing of interest I overheard was someone at the table next to me at dinner say: “My son is probably going to go to Notre Dame, just to spite me…but as long as he ends up deciding to go to college I guess I don’t care.”

Even though it wasn't the most scandalous statement ever spoken, considering I missed the beginning, some of the middle, and the end of the conversation, this one comment still managed to raise a lot of questions: Why does this woman hate Notre Dame? Why does her son want to make her mad? Is it on purpose or accident? If her son is on the fence about attending college, do they really think a hard school to get into like Notre Dame is the best option?

And then my mind starting thinking of all the possibilities. Maybe her son's mad at her because he really wants to get a degree in art, but his mother is pushing for one of those "stable" degrees in engineering or business. And he's decided to get back at his mom by going to his dad's alma mater--not his mother's as she'd hoped--to study the art of religious buildings.

And I realized one of the greatest benefits of listening to people’s conversations. Not only can it help with dialogue, but it is one of the best tools of getting you to start questioning things. And as we all know, with questions come ideas. And with ideas come stories.

This weekend I was watching the Bo Burnham: Words, Words, Words special on Comedy Central. And not only can the guy create incredibly witty songs with his words, but he’s definitely an artist. So I wasn't surprised when during his act, he referenced the fact that a lot of people come up to him and tell him that he’s an artist. And then he gets asked how he can create art with words. He says the main thing that separates an artist from other people is that they constantly question things, like “where are all the Sour Patch parents?”

Not only is that hilarious, but I couldn’t agree with that more. To someone else listening to a conversation might just be that, but to a writer and an artist sometimes it’s more important to discover what you don’t hear or see.

--Emily, Miss Querylicious


BookChic said...

Yay for taking my advice and then taking it a step further! :) You looked the picture of innocence.

It is really fun to listen to other people's conversations, especially if you're only hearing a snatch or two of it because of the fact that you get to fill in the blanks.

Also, I just looked at your website and we share some of the same favorite books- love Bad Kitty (and its sequel; btw, did you hear Michele Jaffe has a new book coming out this December?), as well as anything Meg Cabot, Sarah Mlynowski and Sarah Dessen do. Best of luck with selling your own books! :)

DeenaML said...

You looked lovely for your night out! Very interesting exercise for sure.

Emily Marshall said...

Thanks BookChic.

I hadn't heard Michele Jaffe had a new book coming out. Thanks for the heads up. It looks alittle more serious than Bad Kitty (more like her adult stuff--but I did like those as well). And yes, I generally love funny books. Glad to know I'm in good company :)

And thanks Deena!

Kate Fall said...

I also tried to eavesdrop on people and found that my hearing isn't as good as it could be. Why I'm surprised after 365,000 hours logged listening to loud music is beyond me.

But I did hear someone saying "So I was coming down the stairs as the fire department was coming up the stairs. The guy asked me if I smelled acid and I was like 'Who me?'"

I don't even know what acid smells like.