A few years ago, I was heading into a Subway restaurant when I overheard the conversation of two people passing by. They were a father and daughter; the girl was maybe 5 or 6 years old.
"Daddy, let's get Subway!" she said.
"No, sweetie," he responded. "Daddy doesn't like Subway."
The little girl gasped. "How come you don't like Subway?"
"Because," he said, a firmness in his voice, "Daddy just doesn't like it, okay? Just like how Daddy doesn't like..."
That was all I heard. They were out of my range of hearing, and I was about to open the door to Subway, anyway.
Like I said, that was a few years ago, but it is still bugging me that I didn't hear the rest. Why doesn't he like Subway? What was he going to compare it to? "Just like how Daddy doesn't like..." What? McDonald's? Burger King? Something else, maybe, that isn't a fast food restaurant?
Overhearing conversations is one of my favorite ways to get ideas for characters. I don't go around eavesdropping on people, but I do love when I happen to be around interesting people while going about my business. The "Subway" man and daughter haven't inspired me to write anything in particular, but other situations have.
If nothing else, it's helpful to pay attention to the rhythm of a conversation. How long of a pause is there between each person speaking? Do they cut each other off? Do they make sounds like sighing or grunting in their dialogue?
And if I only hear part of a conversation, maybe it's better that way. I can fill in the rest.
"Daddy just doesn't like it, okay? Just like how Daddy doesn't like Quiznos. Sandwiches are evil, you know that."
Anyone else enjoy overhearing conversations? Have you gotten any good ideas that way?