My husband and I dropped into a coffee shop and while he read the newspaper, I overheard a conversation going on next to us. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. The voice of one of the three carried across the room. Here is what I took away from this free research moment:
An idea for a story. Three college students, one male, two females, all of them a bit nerdy. None of them look related to one another. Classes had just begun and we had stopped near a University. New roommates getting to know one another? One was older than the other two. Could she be returning to college, forced to room with younger students? (I could spend much more space brainstorming in this space.)
Characters. Three people, two female, one male. One of the females bragged to the others about her fellowship. Made it clear she wasn’t a Teaching Assistant, which meant the college thought her brain was more valuable than that. She would be working in a lab doing research. The young man never said a word to the two women, but he leaned toward them, obviously interested in what they had to say. Maybe he had a crush on the younger woman.
Cadence and/or dialogue. One discussion was the European health care system vs. the US’s. The back and forth taught me how quickly the conversation can change when one person shows up another. How questions work to undermine grandiose statements.
Humorous beginnings for articles. I could take this conversation and use it to begin an article on how I used to be just like that gal—and thought I was knew a lot when I was in my early twenties. Now that I’m in my sixties, I realize how much I don’t know. She will face that moment too.
Insights into people. Listening to conversations give you insights into people that you won’t get by reading books, or watching movies, or even having conversations with your friends. Dialogue in books are well orchestrated. And when involved in a conversation with your friend—you are too close to see what’s going on. It’s much more instructive to listen to other people’s conversations—to learn from an impartial point of view.