“Eavesdroppers often hear highly entertaining and instructive things.” (Rhett Butler)

mitchell gwtw“Eavesdroppers–” she began furiously.
“Eavesdroppers often hear highly entertaining and instructive things,” he grinned. “From a long experience in eavesdropping, I–”
“Sir,” she said, “you are no gentleman!”
“An apt observation,” he answered airily. “And you, Miss, are no lady.”

~ Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind, Part One, Chapter VI

According to Christine Frazier, writer of the Better Novel Project blog, eavesdropping is a way to set up conflict, and it’s a characteristic of bestsellers such as The Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

bad-assumption1. The hero has a secret vantage point.

2. The hero sees a group of adversaries.

3. The hero overhears an incriminating conversation.

4. The hero draws incorrect conclusions.

Source: Why Your Hero Should Eavesdrop and Make a Bad Assumption (in 4 steps)

In the famous eavesdropping scene quoted above, Rhett Butler overhears Scarlett O’Hara and Ashley Wilkes. The only criterion it doesn’t fulfill is that Rhett is entirely correct in the conclusions he draws about Scarlett; however, the incident marks the beginning of a dozen years of conflict between Rhett and Scarlett. GWTW has been a bestseller ever since its publication in 1936.

Rhett is amused by what he overhears, but Frazier points out that her two bestseller examples use “horror” to illustrate the hero’s surprise. I used that term twice in this part of Irish Firebrands – and I did it all by instinct. (I’m a “pantser” who never plans her writing, I’ve never taken a creative writing course, I’ve never read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, and Irish Firebrands was completed in January, 2012, more than 4 years before Frazier wrote her blog post.)

Male Main Character (MC) Dillon Carroll goes through each of the eavesdropping steps twice, at the middle point of Irish Firebrands:

  1. He has an accidental secret vantage point in Chapter 17, and he deliberately finds a second one in Chapter 18.
  2. He encounters the first group of adversaries in a pub, and he ambushes the second group in front of his farmhouse.
  3. He overhears the first conversation, but the second one is inaudible; nevertheless, the actions he witnesses seem to speak louder than words.
  4. He draws incorrect conclusions both times, and his misunderstandings lead to further conflict with female MC Lana Pedersen.

To see exactly how this works in Irish Firebrands, you’ll need to read the last section of Chapter 17 and the first two sections of Chapter 18. These passages are too long to excerpt here, so if you don’t have a copy, you can get one quickly at Smashwords.

Downloading Irish Firebrands from Smashwords

NB: You can borrow the 51% preview, but if you buy a copy, you can help substantiate Christine Frazier’s conclusion that eavesdropping is a trait of bestselling fiction! 😉


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