The Subtle Art of Eavesdropping for Character Development by Raina Schell

WomanLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Raina Schell as she shares with us about “The Subtle Art of Eavesdropping for Character Development.” Enjoy!


I’ve been honing my eavesdropping skills as of late, in the spirit that each of our fictional characters speak in a different voice. Whereas one character may sound like a grumbly religious naysayer, another may have the vocal inflections and vocabulary of a “valley girl.” Each character not only uses different verbiage, none speak alike in inflection or tone as well. I pondered this fact of good character development for some time before I decided the best way for me personally to get the “hang” of that was to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations in order to keep all of my characters from sounding exactly like me.

Istockvault-group-hug-girls131097t began innocently enough. I was renting a room in a young girl’s house (via I have been using exclusively when I travel since 2011 and have had some amazing experiences and have made some lifelong friends.

I was renting the room from a very sweet 20-year-old college girl. At about 8:30 or 9pm she asked if it would be okay with me if she invited some girl friends over to talk quietly in the living room. I agreed without realizing what that really meant.

By 10pm there was a ruckus of loud, giggling girls talking about boys, sex, frat parties, make-up, other girls and more. I couldn’t focus on my own travel blog writing so I started writing down what they were saying. I also started texting tidbits to my friends because some of what I heard was not only difficult to believe, it was priceless. I learned more in that hour about 20 year old girls than I thought possible. And although I too was once 20, things have changed and more importantly, you forget.

I won’t repeat most of what they said but I will spill my two most favorite lines, spoken by my host. “I prefer to date 25 year old guys because they … well, they just know everything! And not just about sex, they actually know everything!” I had to sit on the bed in the room I was renting with my hands firmly clamped over my mouth for much of their conversations.

Café del Urrestarazu by Boca Dorada_flickr_creative-commons-2.0I have a weekly writer’s group at a local café and last time I was there I ended up sitting next to two very loud 39 year olds who were upset and vocal about coming up on 40. This in itself had me biting my tongue but the rest of their conversation was not only extremely loud, so loud I couldn’t get any writing of my own done, it was informative. I had to open up an entirely new document. I use evernote for all my notes because it synchs to every computer, handheld and laptop you own, even the free version. I started typing, word for word, everything they were saying. Exciting personal tidbits aside I learned about orthorexia, an eating disorder where the person develops an unhealthy obsession about eating only healthy foods. I also learned about one woman’s struggle with her child’s video game obsession and how grateful she is to have her child back after completely cutting video gaming out of his life. “It’s an addiction,” she said, “like anything else and he went through a period of withdrawal and depression.”

As you can see eavesdropping provides:

  • Entertainment value.
  • Character development.
  • Learning new things from a group of people you would never hang out with otherwise.

What have you learned this week from listening in on other people’s conversations?



Raina SchellRaina Schell is a vagabond. She lives where the tide takes her. The only constant in her life is her trusty laptop. She doesn’t live in a tidy little house. Her dreams aren’t surrounded by a white picket fence. She has no family but spends her free time with a black and white bunny rabbit named Fred.
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