A few nights ago I visited the Opera House to see a play with some friends, one of whom is a playwright. Outside, during the interval, we began posing jokingly for selfies (or “facies” as my mother used to call them). A woman standing near us asked that universal tourist question, “Would you like me to take your photo together?” When we thanked her she said, “I live in Manly. I’m on permanent standby for tourist shots.”
While I was still laughing, my friend the playwright had whipped out their own phone and made a note on it, muttering, “I might use that.” On the way back into the theatre, my friend added, “I’m a playwright. I’m on permanent standby for found dialogue.”
Listening to the way people really speak – the way they change tack or make jokes or surprise themselves – is a rich source of inspiration and connection.
Among my friends I am known for my love of booths in cafes and restaurants. If there is a place with a booth, I want to eat there. I’ll travel for a good booth, and I will choose a three-star meal over a four-star one if there is a five-star booth. But my friends don’t know the reason that I love booths.
They’re the perfect set up for a good eavesdrop. I can sit, making notes, grabbing bits of conversation – found dialogue – as they drift past.
Earlier this week, in the spirit of Virginia Woolf, I asked you to observe your own “Mrs Brown”. Today, I invite you to find some dialogue.
If you have a booth-heavy café nearby (do let me know the location, so I can try it) – pop in and see if you overhear a line of dialogue that piques your imaginative interest. Public transport – trains or train stations, ferries, buses – are brilliant for bits of found dialogue, as are walking paths, beaches, parks and shops.
Essentially, I’m asking you to pay attention. To sit somewhere and listen, to notice what attracts you, to observe your own imaginative spark.
Then, when you have a moment, take two separate bits of found dialogue and put them together. One after the other. Use those two lines to lead you into a scene written entirely in dialogue.
So for instance, I might take the overheard line from outside the Opera House and another line, overheard in my local fruit shop yesterday. So my conversation begins like this:
A: Does anyone even like avocadoes?
B: I live in Manly. I’m on permanent standby for tourist shots.
Who are these people? What is this conversation?
I’m going to write down the page, keeping as always the spirit of play and simply see where it leads.
Write just one page. Read it out loud. Does anything spark? Look for the energy in those random lines. Do those non sequiturs – lines that appear not to follow on from each other – suggest new connections or possibilities?
Keep the habit of listening, and of recording. You never know when you might want to play.
I can’t believe I said it out loud