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Easily Overheard Conversation
"And now that there's nobody around, I have to tell you a secret."
Common rooms have unusual acoustics. Conversations about Voldemort or death eaters are always overheard.
Rugi and Gwena, Tough Guide to Harry Potter

In fiction, it doesn't matter how quietly you speak, people in the other room can still hear you. For example, if Alice and Bob are in the kitchen discussing plans for Aerith's birthday gift, with hushed voices, then Aerith, who's living in the apartment across the hall will mention she doesn't want the gift they were talking about.

In most cases, there is a ongoing secret that is central to the character or the plot, and the hero or villain is talking freely about it with the Secret Keeper or the one who Cannot Spit It Out. Unknown to them, someone else got near and overheard it. The time for The Reveal has come! Don't forget to tune the next episode, same hour, same TV channel! And, in the next episode, everything is solved with a contrived explanation. "Yes, I said that I would kill Storm, but I was not talking about the X-woman, I was just talking about the weather".

Another possible outcome is that the character actually heard the hidden truth, but comically missed the point and understood it all wrong. For example, The Ditz overhears a communist conspiracy, where someone points that when their Evil Plan is ready, the Party will find anyone. But instead of realizing the threat, she understands that they are fun guys, with a project so that anyone will find a party. Of course, the evil ones will be worried when they realize that she heard them, and breath relaxed when they heard the misunderstanding, and try to maintain the ditz in the misunderstanding (for example, hosting a party or two, so that the thing stays credible).

It is possible as well that the character heard well, understood what he heard and the significance of it, but can't or won't take a megaphone and tell everyone. Perhaps the secret holder has a way to force him into secrecy, such as blackmail. Perhaps the character will put a price on his silence. Perhaps the secret sounds so unlikely that even if he talked nobody would believe him, not without a Smoking Gun. Perhaps he just don't care. Or perhaps he was Killed to Uphold the Masquerade. In any case, it's bad news: the more people that knows the secret, even if not revealing it, the more likely that it will become an Open Secret and reaches the ears it's not supposed to reach. Even death is not enough: unless it was a Faceless Goon, if a character is killed someone will investigate who killed him and why. Even more people lurking around the secret!

For some reason, in the world of fiction, overhearing conversations through a closed door is easy, but through five feet of empty space? Impossible. Acoustic License is definitely in play.

Not to be confused with Stage Whisper, which is about conversations being easily heard only by the audience. See also Exact Eavesdropping.


Examples:

Live-Action TV
  • One of the basic key elements of soap operas and telenovelas. Basically all plots involve some form of Easily Overheard Conversation, and the big secret is overhead several times before the final and open reveal.
  • A running gag on Benson is that whenever Benson says something negative about Kraus, no matter how quietly he says it, or how far away Kraus is, she will yell out, "I heard that!"
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawn continually overhears conversations about her in season 5. Despite the problems this creates, they never learn.
  • On The Big Bang Theory, it's called Sheldon's "Vulcan Hearing". One example is when Raj whispers into Howard's ear about Sheldon, and they both laugh. Then Sheldon walks back into the room and announces that he heard them. Cue guilty looks and Howard muttering, "Damn his Vulcan hearing."
  • Usually lampshaded in Graduados by Andy, who is always complaining that her parents always get behind the door to overhear his private conversations.
  • There is a Love Triangle in Solamente Vos: Félix, Aurora and Michelle. Felix is talking with Michelle in the phone, and suddenly Aurora comes very serious: she's tired of being "the other", she's tired of his constant promises of breaking up with Michelle that never became true, she's tired of not having a real romantic life but just the few spare moments he gets from his relation with Michelle... and, while she talked, Felix forgot to close the phone: Michelle heard it all.

Film
  • Short Circuit has the head scientist 20 meters away from the bureaucrat and calls him an idiot.
    "I heard that!"
  • In Office Space, right as Peter, Michael, and Samir hatch their scheme to rob Innitech and swear each other to secrecy, Lawrence, Peter's next door neighbor, calls through the wall that he won't tell anybody their plan either. Michael and Samir begin to freak out over the fact that they were overheard, but Peter assures them that Lawrence "is cool." That Lawrence can hear everything that goes on in Peter's place (due to the thin walls between their apartments) is something of a running gag throughout the movie.

Video Games
  • The Assassin's Creed series has the player eavesdrop on people who are sometimes up to 30 or 40 feet away, often on crowded streets. This may be part of the assassins' heightened senses, along with Eagle Vision.
  • Invoked in Metal Gear Solid. Snake listens in on Liquid and Ocelot talking about the override for Metal Gear REX, saying that only the PAL key can deactivate it. Of course, Snake uses the key activates REX, which was their plan all along.

Western Animation
  • Because the contestants on Total Drama Island are on camera, pretty much everything they say is "easily overheard" to some degree. The most trope-relevant instance is when the campers forget this whilst bonding at the bonfire after the Episode 6 elimination, thereby giving Chris all the information he needs to set up the phobia challenge.


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alternative title(s): First Law Of Sitcom Acoustics; The Firstlaw Of Sitcom Acoustics
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