THE ETHICS OF EAVESDROPPING

This is a guest post by author Joanne Weck

"There's nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head." Thornton Wilder Joanne (Liebhauser) Weck, novelist, playwright, and short story author, draws upon family history to inspire many of her tales set in rural Pennsylvania where her ancestors settled before the Revolutionary War, and where she grew up. She uses her experiences as an actress, director, and teacher, as well. She has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Theater from the University of Pittsburgh. As a Creative Writing and Theater teacher, one of her favorite projects was mentoring YAWT (Young Artists' Workshop Theater) to develop and showcase teenagers' creativity. Her mysteries CRIMSON ICE, published by DPP Press and DOUBLE DECEPTION, published by Amber Quill Press, are available in paperback and Kindle versions. She is represented by EVAN MARSHALL Literary Agency Joanne wrote for Scholastic magazine and co-edited Poconotes, a regional magazine for the Pocono Mountain area. Her plays ( have been featured in New Jersey and PA theaters.. Her hobbies include all-nighters watching True Crime programs on TV while eating chocolate in copious quantities, snuggling her multi-poo, Babydoll, horseback riding, and flying (in a plane) to California and Florida several times a year to visit family

Some would say it’s unethical–snooping, spying, sneaking, and downright rude to eavesdrop on private conversations. Even King Solomon advises against it in the Bible, suggesting that one might overhear something he’d rather not know. However, I believe eavesdropping is one of the writer’s most powerful tools. I like to listen in a store, in the airport, on a plane, a train, a bus, in a restaurant, or coffee shop where people gather.

I listen to that long-married couple, those teenagers, those lovers, that young mother and her child. A story will spill out. An argument will begin, escalate, or end. A relationship will progress or self destruct. I listen not only for information but for rhythm and turn of phrase, musical qualities and edges.

How do real people speak? What emotions color their words? What is suggested by the way words are spoken? What is hidden and what is revealed? What is revealed by pitch, volume, tone, accent, pauses, or other sounds (sighs, grunts) besides that of the voice?

Why eavesdrop? Not to expose or use the actual persons but to transmute their conversations to my own writing. To familiarize myself with live voices. Then I can eavesdrop on my own characters and transcribe their authentic voices, not stereotypical language that I might find too easily.

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