Tuesday, May 28, 2013
THE ETHICS OF EAVESDROPPING
"There's nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head." Thornton Wilder
Some would say it's unethical--snooping, spying, sneaking, and downright rude to eavesdrop on private conversations. Even King Solomon advises against it in the Bible, suggesting that one might overhear something he'd rather not know. However, I believe eavesdropping is one of the writer's most powerful tools. I like to listen in a store, in the airport, on a plane, a train, a bus, in a restaurant, or coffee shop where people gather.
I listen to that long-married couple, those teenagers, those lovers, that young mother and her child. A story will spill out. An argument will begin, escalate, or end. A relationship will progress or self destruct. I listen not only for information but for rhythm and turn of phrase, musical qualities and edges.
How do real people speak? What emotions color their words? What is suggested by the way words are spoken? What is hidden and what is revealed? What is revealed by pitch, volume, tone, accent, pauses, or other sounds (sighs, grunts) besides that of the voice?
Why eavesdrop? Not to expose or use the actual persons but to transmute their conversations to my own writing. To familiarize myself with live voices. Then I can eavesdrop on my own characters and transcribe their authentic voices, not stereotypical language that I might find too easily.