I love gossip. Ever since I was a shy skinny thing with a freckled face and the ability to blend into the background, I’ve been fascinated by the conversations going on around me. Even now, whenever I spot people talking I watch for a while looking for that certain something in their faces to indicate something interesting is going on, then I inch toward them as silently as possible and tilt my head just a bit, listening. I’m rarely disappointed.
I remember my mother and her friend talking about the lady across the street who let her kids run wild all day and went bare legged to church on Sunday. “Bold as brass,” they said, their ominous tone predicting a bad outcome for her boys.
“Did you hear about the Walkers?” my Dad asked the guy in the hardware store on day.
“Yeah,” he answered shaking his head sadly, “I saw the moving truck out front last week. It’s a darn shame too, with the baby coming and all.”
“What happened to the Walkers?” I asked, my voice muffled by a nickels worth of jellybeans.
“Nothing you need to know about,” Daddy hushed me, reaching for a green one and popping it into his mouth. “It’s not polite to eavesdrop. You keep your nose to yourself little one. It won’t do any of us any good if you start going around telling stories.”
I never found out what happened to the Walkers, or why leaving your stockings off on a hot summer day meant doom for your children but I did discover that telling stories can indeed do a world of good for me and lots of other people too.
These days I combine eavesdropping with writing whenever I can. It’s become a lot easier now. People are a lot less circumspect than they used to be, they talk about everything with just about anyone and with the ever-expanding use of cell phones, they talk just about everywhere. Whenever I hear something delicious, intriguing or just plain funny, I jot it down. Then when I get stuck for a story idea or need a writing exercise, I search through my stash for an opening line and start writing.
Here are a few that just might get you started.
At a recent Round Hill Ladies Club Meeting: “And then, without even looking, my mother-in-law plopped down on the sofa and sat on the baby!”
At a local restaurant as a young woman handed a tissue to her distressed friend: “Forget about him, once a cheat always a cheat, and besides he’s a lousy kisser anyway……uh oh.”
At the grocery store, a harried Mom to her teenaged daughter: “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times, stop repeating yourself.”
On the Metro into Washington D.C., an elderly woman into a cell phone: “Billy?” she whispered. “It’s me. Meet me at the park after you put your mother to bed, and bring the stuff.”
From my own bathroom: “Honey….., there’s a frog in the bathtub.”
OK, that last one wasn’t something I overheard. My husband said it to me the other night, eager to point out an unusual and unexpected visitor, but it’s such a good opening line I had to include it.
It’s true that your next door neighbor may get upset if you tell everyone about the time she got drunk and danced on the bar at her cousins wedding, but if you take her brash parting comment as her husband led her out the door, “Talk all you want, but Johnny Walker is still the best dance partner I ever had,” and use it as the beginning of your new Romance novel, she’ll forgive you.
Words flow all around us everyday, and some of them beg to be crafted into a story. By taking only bits and pieces of conversations, you can turn tragedy into comedy, horror into romance and gossip into royalties. Are you listening? I am. Speak up a little will you please?