Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Careful or You’ll End up in my Novel.

By Marilyn Baron

I have two sisters. One prefaces every conversation we have with the same warning, “This better not end up in your novel.”

Now it’s a family joke, so my second sister bought me a warm, fleecy sweatshirt with these words emblazoned on the front, “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel.”

I love that sweatshirt. It makes me feel like a real writer, like my sister believes that one day I will be published and she’s actually afraid that what she tells me will end up in my novel. And it might. Because everything I hear that’s carried on the wind could end up in my novel.

I might overhear a heartwarming conversation between a father and his small son at the grocery store, or something outrageous from a lady at my beauty salon, or dishing with my friend over dinner or trying hard not to listen (read, listen) to an anonymous couple dining near our table. I might recall something funny my husband or children said or something I overheard at a football game or even at a shoe store. Maybe I’ll overhear a whisper from a villain lurking in the shadows of my mind. You never know when you might hear something that will spark a thought, a phrase or piece of dialogue that could be included in your book or provide inspiration for the premise of a new novel.

Typically, I write scraps of conversations on scraps of paper and stash them away in my purse or in a file folder, sometimes never to be seen again. I’m sure it would be more productive if I wrote these tidbits down in one place. So the sister who bought me the sweatshirt, who’s also an artist, gave me one of her hand-painted journals, which I use for recording ideas, jotting down phrases or anything interesting I’ve overheard. Now when I start to write my next masterpiece, I’ll have everything right where I need it.

I’ll give you some examples of recent intriguing conversations I’ve overhead.

“I think I might be dating my ex-husband.”

“You think you might be dating him? Don’t you know?”

“Well, we’ve gone out a few times and everything was going fine until he had the audacity to say, ‘I’m not having sex. You’re not having sex. We should just have sex. It’s not like we haven’t done it before.’”

Isn’t that romantic? Not difficult to figure out why he’s her ex-husband. Or maybe he’s a villain in the making.

Here are some others:

“She’s cheating on her husband and her psychic.”

“I think I might have to go out and prostitute myself so I can afford to color my hair.”

“I’m going to have to go to the gym and try to shake off that pumpkin pie I ate yesterday.”

“My sister won’t talk to me because she thinks my mother likes me better. I can’t help it if my mother thinks I’m a Prince.”

I don’t know how I’ll use these nuggets, but I like the sound of them and it’s a likely bet they’ll end up in my next novel.

What phrases have you overheard recently that you’ve either included in your manuscript or plan to include in a future manuscript or just a phrase you like the sound of that catches your interest? Why not try listening today when you go about your business and share something you’ve heard whispered on the wind.

Keep reading, writing and listening!


Sandy Elzie said...

One that grabbed me and made me turn around and look at the speaker was in the grocery store.

"When we get home I'm going to lock you back in the closet."

Needless to say, my head jerked around, but the mother and the child were laughing, so I guess (hope) it was her cute way of telling the child that she had misbehaved and mother's patience was wearing thin.

My husband says the same thing. If we've had a really heated conversation, he usually ends it by telling me he doesn't want to read about the conversation later. (yes, dear)

Great post. I enjoyed it.


Marilyn Baron said...


Hopefully that mother was kidding. Maybe it was just another way of saying, Don't make me come over there.


Debbie Kaufman said...

Hi Marilyn:

I constantly find myself with things from real life that I hope I can change enough so it won't be recognized. It's hard when there is so much fodder out there for the writing cannon!

Marilyn Baron said...


I know. It's all around us if we just listen (and write it down). I always hear these great things and think, I'm going to remember that, so I don't write it down and then, of course, it goes right out of my head.


Berta said...

Great post, Marilyn! I thought I'd walked into one of those memorable conversations on the elevator once. One woman was telling the other about a couple having sex in the hospital broom closet, with the woman's husband on a ventilator nearby. Turns out the women were discussing their favorite soap. I was so disappointed. I invested a whole thirty seconds into hating that cheating, fictional spouse.

Marilyn Baron said...

Berta, that is so funny. Thanks for stopping by and sharing that.

Marilyn Baron

Susan May said...

Gereat post. It made me laugh. I can't think of any lines off the top of my head, but while I'm sitting in the hospital today I'm going to listen closely. There are enough pople coming in and out of Nick's room that I should come up with a good one by the end of the day.

Marilyn Baron said...

I'm glad it made you laugh. Nice to hear from you and I hope Nick is doing better.


Anonymous said...

>>>Needless to say, my head jerked around, but the mother and the child were laughing

See, it scares me to think someone might be listening to me and my kids because we all have bizarre sense of humor (and are all fans of Bill Cosby). My son once told his speech therapist that his dad was going to shoot him in the face with a bazooka. She didn't get it.

It's funny , Marilyn, but the few times I've tried to start a novel based on something in real life, I've ended up spinning into a different direction and not using it. I'm not sure that made sense, but it's like a conversation I once had with my best friend--she had a great idea for a scene, but it was in the MIDDLE of the book and she asked me if I ever write out of order. Sometimes, I do, but half the time the characters evolve in such a way that by the time I get to the middle the characters have evolved in unforeseen ways and that scene isn't as relevant. So a great first line may kickstart the opening of the book but 300 pages later when Ive gotten to know my character better, I end up revising the beginning anyway, LOL!

I do love your shirt, though! J got me a great shirt for Christmas this year that like to wear while I work. It says "I'M A WORDSMITH (which is just like a blacksmith but without all the tools and fire and stuff...)"


Marin Thomas said...


I've done the same thing as you--collected scraps of paper with tidbits of info/snatches of conversations...I've written them on the back of candy wrappers, my hand, the inside of a bookcover--whatever was "handy" at the time.

Then I toss them (well, not my hand)into a pretty hat box to browse through later when I'm in need of story ideas. You never can tell what a word or a phrase will lead to....

Marin Thomas
A cowboy's Promise (April 09)
*Men Made in America*

Amanda said...

Apparently I didn't listen to the sweatshirt because I'm pretty sure I did end up in a few of your novels.

Your Daughter,

Marilyn Baron said...


Thanks for commenting. You're right. Basing a book on one comment would probably not be a good idea. Sometimes those comments get me started and I head off in the wrong direction. But I often find funny comments that fit a character I've already written. Whatever I decide to do with the remarks, I think it's a fun exercise. I get this feeling when I hear something that I know is right.

I never thought about anyone listening to my conversations and using them in a book. I don't think I'd like that.


Thank you for visting. The hat box sounds like a great idea too. We're looking forward to your post next month.


You and your sister are destined to be in my novels because you both have such good senses of humor. Sorry.



Anonymous said...

>>>Basing a book on one comment would probably not be a good idea

Oh, no, it's a GREAT idea if it works!!! And definitely a good creative exercise. I've just found it ironic for me personally that the line that kicks off the whole thing (or secondary character who helped inspire it or the title that made me thing of the story in the first place) often gets edited out of the final book :-)

Not to be a total Joss Whedon groupie again *g* but he had commentary on an Angel DVD where he talked about this funny dream sequence (at the ballet) that inspired him to do an entire episode centering around a cursed ballerina. But it ended up being so poignant and dark that the hilarious scene (the whole reason he did the ep in the first place) was deleted. But it made for a nice extra on the DVD!

Tanya, who learns a lot about writing from various DVD commentaries

Cyrano said...

I am always completely entertained by your posts!! Loved this one.
I wish I had the where- with-all (is that a saying?) to write down bits and peices of peoples conversations. I have the cutest little note pad in my purse, but it never occured to me to use it to jot down clever sayings...until now.
I do, however, jot down things from TV all the time. (I watch way too much TV when I should be writing, but shhh, don't tell my critique partners, they'll yell at me) Anyhoo, I watch a lot of the History channel, discovery channel, science channel, all the great nerdy learning shows. I'm totally addicted to that stuff.(That's how I fell in love with Benjamin Franklin, by the way)
I get so many plots for books and dialogue ideas from those programs. In fact, I was just watching a Tivoed show called Ancient ink. I learned that in the 1700's Maori warriors from New Zealand were hunted nearly to extinction by the Europeans. The whites would decapitate the warriors and mumify their extensively tattooed heads. The intricate facial tattoos were what the Euoropeans were after and they would sell the heads on the black market. Um...yah, ewwww.
Disgusting, yes, wrong on so many levels, of course, but it gives me ideas. My paranormals would be a perfect place to expand on this particular horror.
So as Marilyn said, ideas are everywhere, you just have to open your mind and let them in!
Loved the post.
Have a fabutastic afternoon everyone.

Dianna Love said...

I couldn't tell you any off the top of my head, but I'm like Marilyn, jotting comments down all the time. People say the most amusing things sometimes. Oh, one just came to mind. My husband ordered a salad while having lunch with a motorcycle buddy who said, "That's not food. That's what food eats."

The smallest things can spur the greatest ideas so keep up with your scraps of paper. A box of those turns into a treasure chest down the road when you need a new idea or something to spur creativity.

Cyrano said...

Um, by the way, does anyone care that my comments are always two-hundred miles long?

Debbie Kaufman said...

No, Tamara. We don't!

Marilyn Baron said...


However you learn about writing, it's obviously working, seeing as you're so successful.

That was a funny comment by your husband.


The Maori Warriors angle is interesting. And no your comments are not too long.

Thanks everyone for commenting.

Marilyn Baron

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Marilyn,

I am always too afraid to listen too closely when I'm with a group of people. I once was threatened that if I didn't quit staring at this lady that she would "Kick my little white butt." That scared the crapola out of me and the sad part was that I wasn't even starring at her. I was daydreaming about a cute guy in my Science class (this was when I was 15).

Since then, I always try to look like I'mnot starring or listening or doing anything that would lead to me having any kind of pain inflicted on me.

Now that I'm older, I probably could get away with more of it though. I know my mother-in-law will sit and people watch and tell me exactly what everyone is doing in their lives. It always amazes me how much info she gets just sitting at a mall cafe.

Thanks for sharing this. I will keep my "ears" open, even if my eyes are focused on my shoes.

And Tamara, you can type as much as you want. We love to hear what you have to say.


Barbara Vey said...

I'm always listening, but I listen for my blog ideas. Same principle though. Guess I'll have to look for a sweatshirt that says, "Careful or you'll end up in my blog." :)

Marilyn Baron said...


You should see me at the hair salon. I'm sitting there getting my hair colored and I always hear the funniest things there. I reach into my purse and write down the comment but the piece of paper and pen are hidden deep in my purse so no one will see me writing it down. Or I'll try to remember it and then when I'm under the lights, etc. away from everyone, I write it down.

Next time I see you staring at your shoes, I'll be sure to keep my mouth shut.

Thanks for commenting.


Carol Burnside said...

I do the same thing, but with people I see. For instance, in Hawaii one day I saw this little girl heading into a gas station. She was a petite blonde, about 9 with the beginnings of a tan and a cattywampus ponytail. Nothing special there, but what made her stick in my mind was her gold lame (lah-may, can't make the accent mark) shoes and the jaunty way she walked! Otherwise she had on shorts and a tank. Watching her, I could only guess at the rich role she must be playing in her head. LOL!

Someday, I'll need a little girl in a story and she'll fit the bill.

Marilyn Baron said...


Thanks so much for stopping by. You definitely should get a sweatshirt with "Careful or You'll End Up in My Blog," except that everyone is already in there!

There's a serious 2nd Anniversary party going on at Barbara's Blog, so everyone should check it out today and the rest of the week and beyond at

And don't forget to watch the bathroom video. It's hilarious.

Marilyn Baron

P.S. Did I tell you there are prizes?

Marilyn Baron said...

Great story Carol. I be that little girl will show up in your book one day.

Marilyn Baron

Linsey Lanier said...

Oooo, Marilyn, I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one with scraps of paper everywhere. I reached into my pocket just the other day and found some lines of dialog I'd written for my WIP that I'd forgotten about! I'm afraid no notebook in the world would help me. But I'm glad you have such thoughtful and creative sisters.

What a fun discussion. I'm not the type to notice what people are saying. Or maybe it's just that I avoid shopping. But I did learn an expression (which wasn't that uncommon, I later realized) on 48 Hours that I used with a spin in my current WIP. Police officers are questioning an Asian transvestite hooker who is reluctant to give information, and one of them tells her to "man up" and confess. LOL.

Great post!


Marilyn Baron said...

I used that expresson in my book and I read it in other books, but I never actually heard a real person say it. Thanks for commenting.

Ana Aragón said...


Great post! I am a fan of listening in on conversations! I belong to a writing group that has challenges where someone will post a sentence and you have to write a 1000 word piece that includes the sentence or something close to it. It is amazing how differently each writer will use the sentence. I've used them to jump-start a story or get me over a hump in my writing.

But like Tanya says, that rarely makes the final edit!

Thanks again for some great food for thought...


The Writers Canvas said...


I left my comment earlier but apparently it didn't go through.

I have a bumper sticker that says that: "Careful, or you'll wind up in my novel." It's available from CafePress for anyone interested!!! Everyone laughs at it, knowing they might wind up in the novel :)

Good post!


Nikki said...

Hi Marilyn!

My mom sent me the link to your blog post--I loved it. Sadly, no random interesting nuggest on public transportation today.


Nikki Salzman

Nicki Salcedo said...

Marilyn, please put me in one of your novels. I'd love to be a mermaid (with a wicked sense of humor). Don't put me in the one with the serial killer.

You are a great writer because you are observing the world!

Love your critique partner,

Marilyn Baron said...


Our slogans (my sweatshirt and your bumper sticker) sound like they may have come from the same place. I love my sweatshirt. I think my sister ordered it from a catalogue.


That writing exercise where you write 1,000 words about the same sentence sounds like a good idea.

I'm so glad you visited the blog and commented! I heard you had a lot of snow in Boston. Hope it wasn't too bad. I just e-mailed your Mom a few minutes ago.
Take care and visit anytime.

and Nicki,

Thanks for the kind words. Well since the Mermaid novel didn't go anywhere and you don't want to be in the serial killer novel, I'll have to come up with a new one to feature you.

Thank you all for commenting.

Marilyn Baron