Overheard Conversations for Writer Inspiration

Two silhouettes talkingOne of the assignments in a writing class I took several years ago was to listen to a conversation in a restaurant and use it to inspire a story. I choose a few words I overheard by two women who sat at a table near us one evening in Utah. The story I wrote had very little to do with the snatches of their discussion that I jotted in my small notepad. However, I developed a story about them, entered it into a conference writing contest, and won the second place award.

Today, I read an interesting article Sophie Littlefield, author of The Missing Place, wrote on John Scalzi’s blog “Whatever Might Be Lost but Not Forgotten”, The Big Idea feature,  on October 14, 2014. She said, “Conversations overheard become stories germinated.” Littlefield made the point that as writers, we spy for ideas and steal details, “the tiniest pieces of them”, to use in our writing. However, she reassures us when she says, “I can say with confidence that no real person has ever been written into one of my books. But every character is stitched from stolen parts.”

In my story, “Cup of Change” that I mentioned above, I stole the women’s contrasting postures and less than five words they said. The characters that developed didn’t resemble them at all. The setting changed from Utah to a hotel restaurant in Hawaii where customers can watch two swans swim in a large pond while having dinner. The swans’ positions at either end of the pond, became a metaphor for the women’s subtle, but piercing banter. My characters turned into enemies whereas the original women were friends.

Have you written a story inspired by an overheard conversation?

By the way, prolific writer, Sophie Littlefield, has twenty-eight books on Goodreads.


Filed under Writing Tips

2 responses to “Overheard Conversations for Writer Inspiration

  1. Another excellent tidbit for keeping our pens rolling across the page by doing something we’ve always been told is rude: eavesdropping!!! I love it. Thanks.


  2. Hi Ladywinfred,
    Writers are allowed to eavesdrop but without being caught at it. Sophie said when she went to the oil boom town in North Dakota to research her book, THE MISSING PLACE, she went to a truck stop for lunch where there were thirty men and the only other woman besides her was the waitress.
    Sophie hunched over her notebook so no one could see she was copying snippets of their conversations. She said she felt shame about spying. However, for the sake of research and the beginning of the “novel’s creation”, she said, “I pilfer and plunder, appropriate and confiscate.”
    We have a good excuse to do the same.

    Thanks for stopping by,


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