Writers have many tools on which they rely, but I believe the most important one of all is the tool of Observation. Way back in high school some 30-odd years ago, our annual Yearbook would dedicate one entire page to the transcription of a recording made in the cafeteria or study hall. However many words fit that page are what printed.
The snippets of conversation were real, layered one over the other. Word choice, syntax, slang give voice and meaning to the time and of the ages of the speakers. At first glance, the page looks busy, almost lazy in a sense – why include a page of random phrases instead of a photo of the volley ball team or collage from Prom?
Dialog is what breathes life into our characters. When I read this page from each Yearbook, I am immediately catapulted back in time to those days of teenage angst. It’s all real. In my mind I can hear the clatter of chairs and shuffling feet. I can even smell the faint odor of Pepsi, candy and stale French fries.
Even now, older and wiser, one of my favorite past times is to people watch, especially when I travel. Airports, shopping malls, doctor’s offices, anywhere there are people, I watch. I listen. I pay attention to details.
What are they wearing? How do they carry items? What happened immediately before that put them in a good or bad mood? Where are they going? What stresses are on their minds? What goals or worries are in their hearts? What answers can be found in a person’s body language to any of these questions?
Observation is free and available 24/7. The choice is entirely ours whether to use this tool or just wing it.