Share the Ambiance

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The sign over the bar says, “Do Not Hump.” It’s not what you think—the sign came from the New York Central Railroad. It’s about train coupling.

It’s also my first time writing in this bar, and I decided you should share the experience and the ambiance with me.

New venues are always an interesting adventure. You show up just like every other schmoe home from work to get his or her drink on. But you’ve got an iPad and a keyboard, so that renders you invisible. And because this is a bar-bar, like an old-time neighborhood watering hole for working class heroes with no booths or tables, you’re more like the ghost of something invisible. You get a little side-eye and then you don’t exist at all.

So you can just sit there and listen to all the humanity going on around you. People’s lives, their dreams and desires, the things they choose to share with the stranger, or friend, or potential romantic partner sitting next to them.

Author Tom Hoover on Writing DialogListening to people should be a sport, for crying out loud.

In fact, a big chunk of being a writer is doing just that—listening to people you don’t know talking to other people you don’t know. It’s where realistic dialog is born.

Although it’s true that you can learn a lot about writing dialog from reading other people’s writing, nothing beats eavesdropping on people having a natural conversation. The words they use, how they interact with each other, and—considering I’m writing this in a bar—how they act and speak when their inhibitions are lowered. It’s an interesting look into the human psyche. It’s also invaluable to learning how to write the way people talk.

Tonight I learned that “Donald Trump is the most arrogant president since Richard Nixon.” I also learned that the phrase, “He’s not,” is an hysterical way to say there’s “no snot.”

Why it’s hysterical is beyond me. It doesn’t even make sense. But then again, I’m not drunk. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever been that drunk.

My muse would love it here. Though I am a tad bit afraid she’d kill the happier people. She’s anti happiness. Actually, she’s anti a lot of things, including me. She always acts like she’s my muse because she lost a bet.

Which doesn’t stop her from drinking my wine. Go figure.

Anyway, Flogging Molly is playing through the speakers, and way too many people are sad about how they spent Mother’s Day. But they still really want to talk about it, really loud—I learned that alcohol makes you deaf.

After a couple drinks—you gotta pay to stay—I needed something to eat. They don’t serve food. So I had a pizza delivered. When it arrived, I got a little more side-eye and the guy next to me told everyone who wasn’t me and cared to listen the history of this particular pizza place. A few stools down, another person is slur-bragging at the top of his lungs about the fireworks he saw at this minor league baseball stadium.

These and other memories that aren’t mine will eventually turn up in one of my books in some fashion.

Along with a whole bunch of other words and relationships I’ve gleaned by osmosis just sitting here, basking in my invisibility. It helps make my ear more attuned to how my characters will talk. Can’t beat good dialog.

Did you know that Elmore Leonard used to say that when he’d write his first draft, he’d keep the characters who had the most interesting dialog?

Bet he sat in lots of bars like this.

Oh. That’s my bill.


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