mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Robert's Rules of Writing #61: Pass the Scuttlebutt

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

With this rule, Masello suggests that writers ought to be gossips.

I doubt he means that in a malicious way, of course, although from my own perspective gossip is generally not a good thing. What Masello suggests is that by trading a piece of juicy information for another piece of juicy information, a writer can find out the "private face of public affairs," and help create the motivations for believable characters.

That's something I can completely understand. If you want to create characters that come alive on the page, the best way to do that is to find out what makes real people tick. And sometimes, that requires getting the goods on your fellow human being.

As an example of useful gossip, let me tell you of a conversation I overheard yesterday afternoon at the Barnes & Noble in Brookline. Ironically, I was browsing the books in the writing section when a young man and a young woman in the same aisle were carrying on a private conversation. However, they didn't go away or lower their voices when I entered the aisle, so as far as I was concerned, they had no problem with a stranger listening in. (Perhaps they would have thought otherwise if they knew the stranger kept a blog, but then again, I was looking at the books on writing. That should have been a clue.) Their conversation went something like this:

Man: So she finally broke up with him, and the rest of us were very grateful, because we couldn't stand him.

Woman: Wow. That must have been good.

Man: Well, yeah. But then she got back together with him a month later, and it was really awkward.

I couldn't help but be curious about this conversation. I desperately wanted to know more. Had it not been outside the bounds of etiquette, I would have approached the man and asked him for more information. Why did his friend break up with her boyfriend? What did everyone say to her about him after the breakup? Did she share her friends' confidential low opinions with her boyfriend when they reunited? Is that why it's become so awkward? And so on.

Their conversation was the perfect dialogue for any writer to eavesdrop upon. When we write our stories, we're inviting our readers to drop in on the personal lives of our characters. We need to use whatever tricks we can to make those personal lives intriguing, and make our readers desperate to learn more. And I would challenge anyone privy to those snippets of gossip to deny their curiosity.

Hm. Perhaps we can even get a writing exercise out of this. Anyone who feels up to it, write the story of that man and his friend. As Masello would be the first to note, gossip has its uses.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein
Tags: boston, brookline, personal, roberts-rules, writing-advice

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