Yesterday I found myself in unfortunate proximity to either a loudmouthed condescending jerk or a tragically insecure person - depending on your degree of empathy. I was going for empathy until said person put down some little kid's dad, to the little kid.
Anyway when somebody has your skin crawling like that the best thing is to move away. But all I could think was Must... Listen... because I might need to write a character with social problems and need to show them with good examples of plausible dialogue (or in this case, a string of subtle putdowns) instead of telling the reader s/he is looking at a jerk or a walking bundle of insecurity.
Then last night I sat down with a terrific writer's book and ACK, I was three pages in and flipping, trying to find a single sentence that would hold my attention. About three chapters in I finally realized I was sitting through a tell, rather than being engaged by a show.
I always hear that tell doesn't work, and think yeah... unless I'm doing it. Well, no more. And if I have to go on standing near unpleasant people to mentally note the ways they reveal their unpleasantness, I'll do it, because I'm committed. Or should be committed. I always get those two mixed up.