Mostly I'm stressing about Pennsylvania, but a reader writes in:
Q. How detailed do you have to be when describing small talk going on around your protagonist, but that he is not involved in?
For example, I have a character sitting at his desk, with co-workers talking just outside his cubicle about what they will be doing on the weekend. The character can overhear it all. The point I want to get across is that the character at his desk is not involved/included or sociable with anybody at work, and that he has nothing to do on the weekend.
Do I actually have to write out what each co-worker will be doing on the weekend, AND all their small talk to establish how well connected they all are? Or can I just write in the pros "they discuss their weekend"?
Really it depends whether you, the story teller, consider what they say to be important to your story.
If we're supposed to know what they're saying, then write it out. For example, if your character has just found out he has cancer, then we probably want to hear the co-workers talking about their summer vacation. You know, for irony. In your example, you're trying to build counterpoint between your hero and his co-workers, so you ought to write it out.
If we don't need to know what they're saying, then it's fine to say, his co-workers babble on AD LIB about their vacations.
If they're talking on-screen, you probably need the former. If they're offscreen you have a choice: write out the dialogue (with (O.C.)
after the character name, on the same line, thus: KERMIT (O.C.)
); or write AD LIB.
If it's just background walla, then you don't need much at all: The crowd BUZZES in the b.g.
(Walla is the term for indistinct noise of people talking.)
Remember, in all these cases, make your choice according to what you want the reader to absorb. If you want them to hear what people are saying, you have to give them dialogue to read. If you just want them to know that people are talking, then just say that.