Overheard Conversations for Writer Inspiration

Two silhouettes talkingOne of the assignments in a writing class I took several years ago was to listen to a conversation in a restaurant and use it to inspire a story. I choose a few words I overheard by two women who sat at a table near us one evening in Utah. The story I wrote had very little to do with the snatches of their discussion that I jotted in my small notepad. However, I developed a story about them, entered it into a conference writing contest, and won the second place award.

Today, I read an interesting article Sophie Littlefield, author of The Missing Place, wrote on John Scalzi’s blog “Whatever Might Be Lost but Not Forgotten”, The Big Idea feature,  on October 14, 2014. She said, “Conversations overheard become stories germinated.” Littlefield made the point that as writers, we spy for ideas and steal details, “the tiniest pieces of them”, to use in our writing. However, she reassures us when she says, “I can say with confidence that no real person has ever been written into one of my books. But every character is stitched from stolen parts.”

In my story, “Cup of Change” that I mentioned above, I stole the women’s contrasting postures and less than five words they said. The characters that developed didn’t resemble them at all. The setting changed from Utah to a hotel restaurant in Hawaii where customers can watch two swans swim in a large pond while having dinner. The swans’ positions at either end of the pond, became a metaphor for the women’s subtle, but piercing banter. My characters turned into enemies whereas the original women were friends.

Have you written a story inspired by an overheard conversation?

By the way, prolific writer, Sophie Littlefield, has twenty-eight books on Goodreads.


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For over twenty-five years, I've taught elementary grades, high school, and county special education classes. Now I am a field supervisor for teachers working toward their teaching credentials. I also teach writing classes in Dublin and Pleasanton, California. I have won 5 awards in short story contests, My stories are published in The California Writers Club Literary Review, and several anthologies including four times in Las Positas College collections. I have several book projects, but the two that have my immediate attention are HADA'S FOG, which is women's fiction, LILLI, a YA novel, and NORMAN IN THE PICTURE, a paranormal mystery. I have published an anthology WRITTEN ACROSS THE GENRES that includes writings from members of my writing classes and other writers. It's available on Amazon and Kindle.

2 thoughts on “Overheard Conversations for Writer Inspiration”

  1. Hi Ladywinfred,
    Writers are allowed to eavesdrop but without being caught at it. Sophie said when she went to the oil boom town in North Dakota to research her book, THE MISSING PLACE, she went to a truck stop for lunch where there were thirty men and the only other woman besides her was the waitress.
    Sophie hunched over her notebook so no one could see she was copying snippets of their conversations. She said she felt shame about spying. However, for the sake of research and the beginning of the “novel’s creation”, she said, “I pilfer and plunder, appropriate and confiscate.”
    We have a good excuse to do the same.

    Thanks for stopping by,


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