Do You Need a Gossip?

do you need gossip
In discussing toxic gossips, Lillian Glass says, “They are good at letting the cat out of the bag. They pick up more dirt with the telephone than they do with a vacuum cleaner. They have a keen sense of rumor.” Consider how such a character could advance your plot.
 
S/he could overhear something and pass it along because that’s what gossips do. Depending on your needs, what was overheard could be true or false. Depending on your plot, either could increase tension, and true gossip could provide a vital clue. Enough said.

 

A gossip often makes the hearer feel like a special confidante, getting privileged information—until and unless the hearer discovers s/he is only one of many.

 

Consider how the gossip disseminates the information: word of mouth, in person or by phone; email or text; Facebook or other social media. The spoken word is, of course, the most deniable—also the most vulnerable to alteration or exaggeration in the retelling.

 

do you need gossip
Consider the character of the gossip. The one basic truth about the character of the habitual gossip is that s/he needs to feel important. In addition, the gossip does not truly disclose information about him/herself. But beyond that, what typifies him/her? Some possibilities include insecure, belittling, competitive, hurtful, self-righteous, sneaky, mean-spirited, angry, lonely—and the list goes on. Depending on what you choose, the gossip could be an object of humor, pity, or dislike to your reader.

 

Consider the gossip’s relationship to your protagonist. The likelihood is that a gossip would be a secondary character in your story. Is s/he a friend, neighbor, coworker, family member, employee? Is s/he a one-off or a recurring character in a series?

 

Last but not least, remember that s/he who brings, carries. The gossip could be a great channel for passing information or misinformation among characters by telling A about B and then telling B about A.
do you need gossip
These are only some of the ways a gossip could enrich your cast of characters. Can you think of others?

Quirks for Your Characters

quirks characters
This isn’t common wisdom for writers.  It’s my personal bias. But I always appreciate characters who, on some dimension or other, are a bit unusual. In other words, give them some habits that are, if not unique, at least uncommon.

 

I recently wrote about verbal tics. But what I’m talking about here goes beyond repeated words or phrases. I’m talking about behaviors your character consciously engages in repeatedly or ritualistically. Here are some possibilities to get you started.

 

quirks characters toothbrush toothpaste
Standing on one foot and then the other while brushing her/his teeth as a means of improving balance

 

Every time s/he goes into the bathroom, doing push-ups against the vanity as a means of building upper body strength

 

quirks characters bird flying
Taking two handfuls of birdseed to the front of the apartment building morning and night to encourage the pigeons and any other miscellaneous birds—even though neighbors bemoan the droppings

 

Setting aside personal possessions to send for birthdays and holidays because it’s easier than going shopping

 

Eating French fries and green salad with his/her fingers

 

quirks characters french fries ketchup
Wearing sweatpants and t-shirts as pajamas so that s/he can be seen at the mailbox or picking up the newspaper and look dressed for the day

 

Filling the entire patio with pots of herbs (such as basil, dill, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, mint, parsley, tarragon) to support cooking from scratch, having bought local

 

Choosing to drink scotch/bourbon/whatever from a measuring glass marked in both ounces and milliliters

 

A character quirk is NOT the same thing as OCD. An obsessive/compulsive disorder compels the person to do it or suffer extreme anxiety, distress, and/or disability. While compulsions can make for interesting characters, creating an OCD for your protagonist can also produce unintended complications of plot and/or action.

 

Bottom line: Use all the means at your disposal to create interesting, believable characters.

The Upside of Fear

upside fear blue woman
We are prone to assume that fear is a bad thing—but not so for writers! Giving your characters fears is just one more way to make them real.

 

I’ve been on a character jag recently, writing about birth order, secrets, and exercises to better understand your characters and build realistic ones. Lately it seems that everywhere I look I find another tidbit. Such was my reaction to this article in the Ohio University alumni magazine.
i fear therefore i create
This half-page article is about the book Fear, illustrated by Julia Elman, a professor of visual communication. It is absolutely relevant to writers. As Elman says,  “…we live in a world where fear is a driving force. Fear sells, persuades, and makes us snap to attention.” I will add that giving your characters fears makes them more real.

 

ohio today
Your character’s fear could be a big one—in which case, it might be shared by many. The end of the world as we know it or other cataclysmic disaster is a staple in the action/adventure/suspense genre.

 

ohio today
More personal fears are more generally relevant to character building. Here, the prime example is fear of failure. But it could also be a fear of death or personal disaster that drives much of a character’s behavior, especially in the mystery genre.

 

ohio today
Fear of loss is a great one. It can lead to all sorts of desperate measures to prevent a loved one ending a relationship, a child from leaving home, an employee becoming irrelevant…

 

Personal fears can be anything, from a debilitating phobia to a source of humor. Consider the agoraphobic, so fearful of open spaces that s/he can’t leave the house. On the other hand, someone who fears insects could go to comic extremes to protect, home and garden. You get the idea.

 

Bottom line: Give at least some of your characters fears that advance the plot.
 
upside fear ohio today
For more on creativity, see the Summer 2017 issue of ohio today.