Every writer says it; every writer knows it; every writer does it!
Just listening to people around you is sooo useful. Sometimes I think my ears must be out on waggling stalks as I try to catch some interesting bit of conversation just within hearing. Then the next challenge is trying not to look like some sinister stalker (sorry, pun unintended) while I write it down. Not that I normally look like a sinister stalker… I hope!
But I heard a cracker yesterday. I was walking through Belfast and two young men in jeans walked past me. This was the snippet I heard:
“Aye, you know the ins and outs of the job, but he wants you to know the hairy backside as well.”
When I was in hospital some years ago, a nurse was trying with difficulty to squeeze between a bed and a medicine trolley. She said (and you have to imagine a broad Belfast accent):
“Ye can suck yer belly in but yer ass goes nowhere.”
I nearly had to go back to theatre to get my stitches back in!
In Maker of Footprints, I used a real snatch of conversation which I felt just suited the tension of the moment between the two main protagonists:
“A mother and two children came close to the edge of the pond. There was a boy of about four and a little girl of two. The girl held a whole slice of bread in one plump hand and a large purple soft toy under the pink sleeve of her other arm. She teetered and her mother gripped her shoulder, bending to her. Anxiously she asked, “Would you like mummy to hold your heffalump?”
That really happened in a park near me and it was so useful in evoking a contrast of emotion within a highly charged, pivotal scene.
Hairy backsides or heffalumps – a writer can use anything!