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Monday, November 14, 2011

All aboard the Gossip Train

Have you ever played the game where you sit in a circle and one person whispers something to the person next to them? For example, you whisper, "The mayonnaise, tomato and lettuce are on the counter top." One person after the other whispers the same phrase to the person next to them until they complete the circle. The last person in the circle then announces the phrase that he or she heard. Usually it is a far cry from the original statement; maybe something like: "The Maze to Nato let us iron the hunter cops."

I've thought about the value of Gossip in my writing. I've decided that having a 'home town gossip' in our stories is an invaluable tool. Think about Rachel Lind in Anne of Green Gables and how her gossip and judgments propelled so many plot twists and conflicts. Or how about the Olsens? What would Little House on the Prairie be without Harriet, Nellie and Willie meddling in everyone's personal affairs? Aside from a sappy string of dramatic warm fuzzies, it would be boring.

Tonight I reminisced with my niece about our favorite episodes. Hands down the ones we liked the most involved Nellie or her mother. The pranks, the deception, the gossiping, the back stabs, the revenge, the tricks, the heartache--we owe all of it to the Olsens. One episode in particular displays all of the many plot twists and turns that can come about all because one person, intentionally or non-intentionally, gossiped.

In this episode, Walnut Grove puts in a phone line. Of course very few people other than the Olsens can afford it, and Harriet runs the switchboard. To make the story short, by the time the 45 minute show concluded, a marriage was almost ruined, Harriet bet her entire inheritance on a faulty investment and all over town, family secrets hung out to dry like wet laundry on clotheslines. It all ends well of course, but the depth of the episode increased as misunderstanding after misunderstanding rolled through the town like a giant snow ball picking up momentum. The gossiping brought out the best and worst in the characters, giving us a rare and personal glimpse inside their lives.

If your plot needs an unexpected twist or complication, or if you need to flesh out one of your MC's, might I suggest you throw in a misunderstanding or two, preferably with a snotty nosed, villain like Nellie Olsen at the root of it all. Guaranteed you'll crank up your
*Humor
*Drama
*Romance and
*Overall intrigue.

Good Luck! I'm not the only Little House die hard out there am I?

18 comments:

Peggy Eddleman said...

Oh, very good point. I don't tend to think about that at the beginning of a story. In fact, my "Nellie" character in my latest didn't surface until about the ninth revision!

Melissa Sarno said...

Oh my goodness, I loved Nellie and the Little House On the Prairie series. I have a Three's- Company-kinda misunderstanding in my novel and you've made me think a little more about how to improve it with this post. So thanks!

Cassie Mae said...

Lol, I never watched Little House on the Praire, but I was a big fan of the books when I was young! And I've got lots of gossipy characters, which really irks my mc when he discovers he's always the last to know :)

Elizabeth said...

No, you're not! One of my favorite books and tv series of all time! As a kid, I hated Nellie, though. It was fun to think of her in another light today, bringing mischief and interesting plot twists to Walnut Grove :)

Angela Cothran said...

I love this idea Sara :) Now I'm thinking how I can work this into my story!

E.R. King said...

Ah, I dislike people who gossip. I stay away from them like they're the plague. When I write a "gossiper" they're always the bad guy. Because people who sit and talk about other people and spread lies are in my opinion bad. (Not much gray in my world.)

Tara Tyler said...

i liked watching them grow up. especially the romantic shows =)
sigh

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I loved the books and I loved the TV show, even if they were kinda different. Whenever I need some feel-good/sappiness time, I find a re-run of LHOTP and settle in for some old-fashioned laughs and tears. :)

Sara Bulla said...

Peggy: My 'Nellie'ish character doesn't surface until the end as well. But when they do enter the scene, they can really rock the boat it seems. :)

Cassie Mae: Gossipers always aggravate and 'bug' our good characters. They remind me of an itch in the middle of your back that you just can't reach. So annoying!

Elizabeth: I'm glad we're soulmates on this point! And yes, I still hate Nellie, but I see how she helped create the Laura we all know and love. :)

Angie: I hope it's useful for ya!

Emily: I totally agree with you. Gossipers tie my stomach into knots, in real life and in fiction! They are bad and I think they just aggravate the MC and the story and help our good guys rise higher! I hate writing them, but I do see their value.

Tara: I loved the Almanzo stuff! I'm a sucker for romance. :)

Madeline: We are kindred spirits! I sit down with a good re-run and soak it up when I need a good dose of cheesy-ness! :)

Mel Fowler said...

you are....

No I'm kidding, I grew up watching them and we never missed a show. Sadly I've grown out of watching it. But you're right, every book needs a Nellie Olsen!

Karen said...

No you aren't. I hated Nellie Olsen, and I never understood why Laura kept trusting her time and time again. Of course, as a writer, I now understand it completely - conflict sells. :)

My book has a gossiper, but she's more the fun and silly type than the hateful Nellie and Harriet Olsen type. I'm hoping she makes people laugh instead of making their blood boil.

Ruth Josse said...

I love Little House! Oh Laura and all her awkwardness of growing up.

Misunderstandings are a great tension builder/complication. Unless it's something that could be easily solved if someone just has to go up to another person and ask a question to clear things up but decide against it for some lame reason. Hate that.

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

Oh wonderful examples. I have a character in my NaNo that I've introduced but not really fleshed out that would fit into this perfectly. Now just to Nellie-her-up!

Meredith said...

Ha, I remember that episode! I used to watch reruns of it during the summer--so much fun!

Renae W. Mackley said...

I loved hating Nellie. She's a great one to put in a story. Good memories, good ideas. Thanks for the post.

Jessie Humphries said...

I honestly have never watched an episode! I guess I'm the odd girl out!

Melissa Sugar said...

I read the books and watched the shows. I remember hating Nellie. Good idea about spicing up your writing with some juicy gossip and misunderstandings.

Karen said...

Thanks for stopping by My Writing Loft, Sara. And thanks for your comment. I didn't realize I didn't explain what Writer's Leap 366 meant in my sidebar description, but sure enough it isn't there. I have to fix that. When I decided I wanted to attempt a daily blog for a full year, I was going to name the series something with 365 at the end. Then I noticed 2012 is a leap year, and had to change it to 366, so Writer's Leap 366 made sense. Now, I need to explain it to my readers. :)

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