This morning was a learning experience. I met some writer friends and we had a writing session in a cafe.
Of course, I'd forgotten that whenever I try to write in a cafe, I invariably find myself near the loudest, most-in-need-of-therapy patron in the place. It probably didn't help that A) she was loud (did I mention that?), B) I tend to "go to the distraction", and C) I'd forgotten my iPod.
A friend of mine has a great way of looking at characters. He uses the formula, "The character experiences X, and their response is Y." (i.e. The author realizes he's sitting next to a needy loudmouth, and his response is to wish she would finish her coffee and leave.) It's great for finding passive characters or character thinking errors.
So I started to write down what she was saying (hey, she's six feet away from me and easily a fourth of the cafe can hear her every utterance). Eventually I got tired of transcribing her travails and moved chairs.
This evening I did a quick edit of the transcript. Seeing what words and phrases, especially the ones she repeated ("I was so embarrassed," "It's just..." "So I'm going to pray for...") was fascinating not only in terms how dialog reveals character, but also because she used phrases I've rooted out of my writing. If I want to add variety to my dialog, I'll have to see about revisiting "bad" words and phrases.
Finally, she did leave, and I rejoined my writer friends.
Her replacement was a relativelly quiet computer consultant. On a cell phone. Advising about internet porn.