Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Role of Gossip or Spreading Tales

Patience--1906--Leonard Campbell Taylor For a little while I was in the dark (which seems to happen a lot). But then I noticed a particular pattern to conversations I was having with my daughter’s friends’ parents.

“Elizabeth! I heard the funniest thing the other day when your daughter came over to play. She said you listen to ‘old lady music!’ She kept talking about the kind of stuff you listen to on the radio in the car and I was just cracking up!”

It took me several weeks of random playdates for me to realize that my daughter had targeted me for a change-the-radio-station campaign. She decided that if she spread stories about my listening habits (I tune in to classical music or new age because driving stresses me out), then I would feel some pressure to figure out what the pop radio station was (because I have no idea) and switch to it—at least while her friends are in the car. Apparently, other parents listen to top 40-type stuff? Who knew? She hoped my peers could pressure me into listening to something more modern.

Luckily, I’m immune to peer pressure. :) Although I give her kudos for trying.

Gossip, or telling tales, does have a lot of good uses in fiction, though. Here are some good ways to put it to use.

Gossip can be used as a means to an end…like my daughter’s interest in getting me to change my radio station. A politician could spread rumors about his opponent, forcing her to drop out.

Gossip can be used to achieve surprise. Local gossip can misdirect our protagonist and give him an incorrect perception of a character. This means our reader is jumping to the same conclusions, too. To Kill a Mockingbird had Boo Radley, who seemed like a terrifying person to the children in the book because of local gossip, but he ends up saving Scout from an attacker.

Gossip can create conflict for our protagonist—when untrue stories circulate about him or someone he cares about.

Gossip can be a tool for getting information for our protagonist…although he has to sift through it to glean what’s true and what isn’t. My sleuths come across as gossipy to other character, who open up to them—and provide clues or red herrings.

Our protagonist could be the one gossiping—and it could backfire on him and cause him to make enemies.

Gossip can take a harsher form and go into a totally new territory. In Ian McEwan’s book, Atonement, two young teenagers gossip with each other over the meaning of a note. They reach an incorrect conclusion that ends up changing lives.

Do you ever use gossip as a tool in your story?