Classroom Exercise Playwriting

Eavesdropping Exercise: Where do ideas come from?

Written by Lindsay Price

Ideas are not magical ponies. They don’t appear instantly. Writers know they have to look for ideas. The more they look for them, the more ideas they have. The key with ideas is not to focus on the great idea but to write down every idea. You never know what will spark your interest until you get that pen moving.

One way to look for ideas is to create a habit of observation. To observe is to look specifically at people, places and things. If you observe on a daily basis, if you’re always looking, you will come up with ideas on a daily basis. And of course, once you make an observation, you have to write it down and then try it out in a theatrical context. That’s how you’ll know if the observation is something that can turn into a play.

Here’s an exercise to put this into practice

Eavesdropping is a great exercise to get students in the habit of observing, writing, and trying out.

Here’s what you do
  1. Sit somewhere inconspicuous. A food court in a mall or a cafeteria. Make sure you’re eavesdropping on strangers – don’t listen to a friends conversation as you’re going to be creating characters for this conversation later on.
  2. Listen to a conversation behind you, off to the side. Don’t look at the conversation, just listen. It could be a fragment of conversation, it could be one side of a phone call, it could be something intense or funny. Write it down as much of what you hear, as close to word for word as you can. Write in all the mistakes you hear in the conversation, write in the pauses, the sounds you hear, the unfinished sentences. Don’t worry if you don’t get it all. You’re not making a documentary. You can use your imagination to fill in the blanks.
  3. Be subtle. Don’t make it obvious you’re eavesdropping and worse still writing down what you observe. Don’t make noises or comment on what you hear.
  4. Once you’ve written down a page you can stop. Look at what you’ve written down. Brainstorm on the characters who could be involved in this conversation. Remember you didn’t watch the conversation so you don’t know what they look like.
  5. Come up with two character names, a relationship between the two characters and a location. Make it a different location than the one you’re currently in.
  6. Turn this conversation into a scene. Write out the conversation in proper play form. Write what happens next. Including the conversation you’ve overheard, write a two page scene. 


Repeat this exercise, only focus on a conversation you can see but can’t hear. As you observe the conversation, decide what they are talking about based on their body language. Turn the conversation into a scene.

Click here for the Eavesdropping Exercise - free download!
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About the author

Lindsay Price