Day 18 – Overheard and Understood by Julie Duffy

today’s writing prompt invites you to write a short story in an unusual format: an overheard conversation

StoryADay Writing Prompt illustration

The Prompt

Write a one-sided conversation.


Imagine a character listening to one side of a Zoom call.

The person on the call is using headphones, so your character can only hear their words, not the responses.

Imagine a conflict for your two characters (it could be a parent and child, a romantic couple, roommates): Living together has certain stresses and we all need things from the folks we live with. Being in close confines causes conflicts every day, that build over time.

Your character has a problem with the person they live with. Maybe they want more of their time and attention. Maybe they want to leave. Maybe they just want to have a discussion about values.

How could the one-sided conversation they overhear illustrate (or solve, or illuminate the problem?

You could write this in sections – the first section is your character thinking about the problem, or rehearsing what they’re going to say to their housemate.

The second section could be the conversation they overhear. You can include your character’s internal (and external) reactions to what they here, or just leave that section as a block of monologue.

The third section might be showing your character’s actions in the wake of the understanding they have gained from eavesdropping on the conversation.

Don’t forget to include physical senses in some of the story. Where is your person standing? What does the room feel like? What can they smell? What else can they hear (are the floorboards creaking underfoot, as they try to conceal their presence? Or are they tapping on the door and being ignored/unheard? Are they sipping on a coffee or a cocktail? How does it taste?

Julie Duffy

Julie is the host of StoryADay and has been on more than her fair share of Zoom calls even before, you know, 2020. Julie often speaks to writers groups and business groups about creativity, writing, and the art of productivity. If you’d like her to speak to your group, you can find out more here

day 18 bingo
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Join the discussion: what will you do with today’s prompt OR how did it go? Need support? Post here!

P. S. Over on the Fun-Size Challenge I’ve invited people to submit a story for a chance of getting feedback from me on a live call next week. You are also invited to the party. Get all the details.

12 thoughts on “Day 18 – Overheard and Understood by Julie Duffy”

  1. These prompts have me writing again, even on my WIP where I was stuck. But I’ve found myself neglecting my WIP because I’m so busy writing to the prompts. So yesterday, the 18th, I worked on my book first. Consequently, my short story written to the 18th prompt isn’t finished. I have about 1500 words and haven’t arrived at the one-sided conversation yet! But I’m enthused about the story and I hope to finish it today, the 19th. I’ve already finished today’s prompt.

  2. My scene has my teen (the main character) sneaking downstairs after an argument with her mom and overhearing a zoom call. She hears comments like “summer session,” “she’s quite a handful,” and “we need to take care of this quickly before her father and I leave the country.” It ends with her reaction to the bombshell news and she begins planning her escape!
    I’ve been writing the prompts that I missed last weekend trying to catch up but not posting because they weren’t that day’s prompt, but I decided to do today’s and then do the missed ones after! I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s take on the prompts; there is so much variety!

  3. Well, Julie…I have to tell you that I have done this twice now…kind of by accident. I have found myself combining a couple prompts. I did this today and I have to tell you, I have just loved doing this. Both times, the story that emerged was above my expectations. Meaning–it was transformative, witty and focused–something to possibly work on for the next several weeks and turn into something meaningful. As of today…I am all caught up on the prompts, waiting # 19. Thanks for the prompts!

  4. Great prompt. I wrote a scene from a story I started awhile back, but never finished. I didn’t know my characters well enough and set the story aside. Today I wrote one of the scenes twice. In one scene the wife is talking to the family dog about their problems and the husband overhears. The second time it’s the husband talking to the family dog and the wife overhears. I understand the characters a little better now.

      1. If the compliment is meant for my story, Julie, thanks a million as it will keep me going. You see, I already feel guilty being the only one posting my stories regularly. I read some of your comments on how you feel about rules and they somehow had me encouraged.
        Anyway, thank you for giving me this opportunity. I have enjoyed myself thoroughly, contributing.
        Stay safe and blessed. Best wishes.

        1. Keep Posting! I have enjoyed reading them. I personally cannot complete a story to the level you do and therefor do not post anything completed.

  5. “Shakhi, Bhalobasa kare Koi” (What’s Love, My Dear?)

    Talking to Swarth about how insulted she felt while he found faults with almost everything she prepared for lunch, was useless, Snigdha thought. It would only worsen matters. How was she going to make him feel about her injured feelings then? She thought for a while, sitting in front of the dressing mirror, combing her hair. She looked closely at her reflection. The locks at the sides of her face, just above the ears, had started greying. The dark circles under her eyes belied the fact that it was not so long ago that she won the Miss Lady Brabourne Beauty Contest. If she had wanted, she could have easily had a queue of eligible bachelors outside the door of her paternal house in her prime.
    Yet, what did she hear Swarth say to himself in the bedroom when he thought she was out on an errand? She had heard him repeat the same sentence twice. How could he even think of something like that even after their married life of over twenty-one years?

    It happened after Snigdha had informed Swarth that she was going to get the churidar of Smriti, their only child, double stitched from a nearby tailor’s. If the churidar was stitched twice, it would last longer.

    She had gone just a few steps out of their flat, when she remembered her glasses and the musk that she left on the table outside the bedroom, in the living room. Swarth asked her to leave the main door shut from outside (Did she detect some rudeness in his voice or was it her imagination playing some tricks?) as it was time for Smriti to be back from her tuition after school. Besides, the Maid was to come for cooking sometime soon.

    So, Snigdha had no problem getting in, tiptoeing back to the table and picking up her glasses along with the musk when she was nearly made to jump! It took her a minute or two to realise that Swarth was talking aloud. He sounded hurt. But more than the hurt, there was an outburst of angst in his voice too!

    What was the matter? Who was he talking to? What about? She found it hard to control her curiosity and put her ear against the door just behind her.

    Apparently, Swarth was near the window on the southern side, away from her. She quickly made some mental calculations. Even if Swarth wanted to open the bedroom door, it would give her ample time to scurry out. Having ensured that she couldn’t be caught red-handed, eves dropping, she bent her head down against the small, round hole in it.

    Swarth was talking to himself!

    “I’m sure SHE is going to be in some kind of danger soon. What did she tell me on her return from office the other night? That Jit Da, her Manager, was so impressed with her performance for the month ( She had three people insured for over two lacs!) that he hugged her in front of all the office staff! What a silly woman! How could she let that useless man hug her? That too in front of all the other staff? What could they have thought about her at that time? Besides, how could she be so ignorant as to put up with that imbecile? He had had his eyes on her the first day I accompanied her too the Kodak Mahindra branch at Ballygunge for the interview. It was clear from the way he kept ogling her as if he had never seen a good-looking woman before!
    Oh, God! How could she be so cheap to let that useless man hug her in front of all?”

    Standing there at the door with her ear placed against the door, Snigdha felt her world reeling. So that was what had been at the back of his mind for the last few days. How could he even think of something like this – comparing him with a man nearly half his age? And if he was so upset, why couldn’t he ask her directly like the man and wife they were?

    Snigdha retraced her step backward and left the house feeling utterly humiliated and nauseous. All the way to the Tailor’s and back, she had no other thought in her mind.

    “Madam, it’s done.”The aged tailor told her putting the churidar back in the packet and handing it back to her. ” Madam! ”

    “Hmn… ” She detached herself from the thoughts clouding her mind and asked, “How much?”

    ” Fifty rupees, Madam.”

    On any other day, she would have bargained and brought the charges a little down but tonight she had only one thing in her mind – How to make it clear to Swarth that no other man mattered to her. How could he even make such a big issue out of nothing? Didn’t he know that he had always been her hero? He was the one she lived for? He even made her forget how she had loved and worshipped her Dad once. She was crazy for him and no one, nothing else mattered to her as long as she had his love, trust and respect.

    Though greatly disturbed, she didn’t forget to buy the icecream bars, something Swarth simply couldn’t do without on the way back home. By the time she was back home, she had everything down to the last detail, chalked out.
    Dinner was a quiet affair. She offered him the ice cream in that China bowl along with the spoon.

    That was the best time of the night, when sitting face to face near the window, they could enjoy the beauty of the night.Tonight though the Tuntun pair that made a nest on the malati tree in the garden outside, sitting on the branch of the flowering tree, seemed a bit detached from one another.

    “Would you like to have some more?” She asked him, having noticed the empty bowl.

    He shook his head and got up.

    Snigdha picked up the empty bowl and scampered out to the kitchen.

    By the time, Swarth was back to bed from the shower, she was already under the sheet, having sneaked a peek at Smriti’s room earlier. She was busy working on her laptop and bade a quick good-night to mom.

    Snigdha turned to the wall on her side of the bed, fiddled with the mobile and clicked on a YouTube video. There was a popular song of Tagore playing :

    Shakhi bhabona kahare bole
    Shakhi jatona kahare bole
    Tomra je bolo dibasho rojoni
    “Bhalobasha” “Bhalobasha”
    Shakhi bhalobasa karey koi
    Seki kebali jatonamoi ?

    [ What is meant by the (Love) Thoughts ? What are these Pangs (of Love), My Dear? This thing you keep harping on called LOVE? What is really this thing called Love? Is it always so painful? ]

    Swarth, had hardly got under the sheet when he saw Snigdha wiping the tears away. Just above her still figure, the silvery moon was beginning to cast a spell on the couples all over the world.

    Swarth turned on his side and put his hand over her. She lay still on her back for a brief second before snuggling close to his arms.

  6. Great PROMPT! I had to make a big reveal in my novel. So I wrote the scene with two people talking about Beth’s biological dad. I have written both sides of the call, but Beth will only hear one side. I don’t know which one yet. This had me explore a whole different aspect and allowed me to bring in some much need backstory.

  7. I wrote about Rhys overhearing a conversation a teammate, and one of his best friends(occasionally with benefits) was having. It gave him some insights to the other person, but also dug into some of his own insecurities and will probably increase the tension between them instead of solving it. 😀

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