May 6, 2014

Good Gossip

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Oscar Wilde once said, "If there is anything more annoying in the world than having people talk about you, it is certainly having no one talk about you."

I suppose that depends on what they're saying, of course.

But nowhere does gossip serve a higher purpose than in fiction.  If our characters are lucky (and so are we), there are plenty of other characters talking about them behind their backs.

In fiction, there is much to gain from hearsay, and I'm here to say it. Among the benefits:


Ebenezer Scrooge (and we) learn why he grew to be a loner old miser as various ghosts show him pivotal moments from his life, in which characters reveal their opinions of him to one another.  This is much more dramatic than if the ghosts had simply told him why no one likes him.

When we first saw Forrest Gump, we wondered what his deal was.  It was enlightening to hear conversations about his medical history, such as those between his mother and his doctor.


At the beginning of a story, we are just getting to know the main character.  But his/her companions and associates have known them for a long time, and have a strong sense of who they are. We are brought up to speed in short order by parents who worry about their son's choice of friends or teachers complaining about the new principal's track record.

Glimpses of trouble ahead are well served by coworkers spreading rumors, or for the evil adversary to spell out to accomplices how the hero's vulnerabilities will be exploited.


When a bride-to-be tells a friend of her engagement, she may receive an enthusiastic congratulations, and we assume everyone's happy. But we become privy to the spinster friend's real reaction when she spews a jealous diatribe to a mutual acquaintance.

Perhaps the groom-to-be didn't propose at all, and a misunderstanding grew too big to get out of. The behind-the-scenes conversations between him and his best man tell the real story of what he's going through. The truth comes out, and it can provide an interesting turn of events when it does.

In The Invention of Lying, we saw how brutal honesty can hurt when it's told face to face. In a perfect world, apparently, a little subterfuge can actually be a good thing.  

In the all-knowing, all-seeing eyes of fiction, there are no secrets.  Enjoy exposing your characters' underlying mysteries and exploiting the salacious scuttlebutt.

But you didn't hear it from me.

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