Keeping your ear out

Where I come from there is an expression “keeping your ear out” – it is the aural equivalent of keeping ones eyes open.

Yesterday on the train I heard two wonderfully comic and evocative bits of dialogue

“He had the biggest baby blue eyes.  He is thirty now.  His eyes are still blue of course, but more in proportion”.


“I was on the radio once. I was making chutney.  I still have the tape”.

I couldn”t see the woman who was making these comments – she was sat behind me - but she was just chatting, not trying to be comic and there was absolutely no irony in her voice.

Both of these snippets open doors to short stories. I feel that I could easily build hundreds of words around each.  Or, alternatively, they are pieces of dialogue I might slip into a bigger piece of work.  They would add depth because there is something about them so real(I could hear each appearing in an Alan Bennett monologue for example).

They could be used to build character.  What kind of woman speaks like this?  What does she look like?  What is her life like?  I have a picture in my head of who she is though I never saw her.  Getting a character to have depth means attention to how she speaks and the kinds of words she says.  I feel I could build a whole character just from these lovely snippets of overheard conversation.

Sitting on that train yesterday and hearing this woman, I was reminded again of how important it is for writers to “keep our ear open”.

I was also very glad that my home town has this funny expression and wondered – is it local to Yorkshire or common elsewhere?