I remember it well. The first time someone called me nosey.
My friend, Renee, said, “You’re so nosey,” in response to me apparently drilling one of her old college buddies.
I confess, I was taken aback. A bit hurt, slightly offended and well, confronted with a character flaw.
No one had ever accused me of nosiness before and as I absorbed her rebuke. I promised to change.
At the time, I was somewhere between the corporate job world and writing my first novel and didn’t realize how valuable my nosiness would be to my future career.
While I certainly don’t like to make people feel uncomfortable, or pry into private business, I didn’t curb my nosiness flaw too much.
I have learned to read situations, assess people’s body language and expressions to see if they are open to tell me their story, but otherwise, if something fascinates me, I dive right in.
Being a good novelist requires, no demands, we understand life. We have to investigate stories and situations in order to find those sweet nuggets that make our stories layered, textured and touching the heart of the reader.
A few years ago my husband taught high school math part time (yea, in those days there was a lot of ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmatic going on in our house) and for his first year on staff, the Christmas dinner was held at another staffer’s home.
Just as we sat down to eat, I noticed the young man across from me was not eating. His wife, one of the teachers, made a face when I ask, “How come you’re not eating?”
He replied rather matter-of-fact. “I don’t eat food at other people’s homes.”
Oh, no, you did not just say that! I expected, “I already ate.” Or “I don’t feel well.” Perhaps even an, “I was waiting until everyone else had gone through the line.”
But, “I don’t eat food at other people’s houses,” was just too good to pass up.
I moseyed right into his business.
“Because I don’t know how it was prepared.”
“Really? So where do you eat? Only at home?”
“No, I eat at restaurants.”
‘But you certainly don’t know how the restaurant food was prepared. Have you read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential? What about frozen food? From the store.”
“Yea, I eat frozen food.”
I’m telling you, I drilled him until he almost doubted his own phobia.
Somewhere along the line my husband came to his rescue. “She’s a novelist.”
What a great psychological study on quirks and phobias. A person who won’t eat food prepared at mother person’s home but will dine out or eat frozen food.
I’ve never assigned this particular quirk to a character, but the philosophy behind it has given me confidence to believe the plausibility of any flaw I give my characters.
Being nosey gives an author validation that any crazy flaw he/she give their character just might work.
Being nosey gives authors understanding about life and the human condition.
All stories, from romance to thrillers to sci fi, are about people. There’s really no such thing as plot driven verses character driven. All books are about ordinary people facing extraordinary odds.
If the readers don’t like the characters, they won’t care about the smash ’em up plot.
Would we have cared so much about John McCain’s predicament in Die Hard if we didn’t know he was trying to save his marriage, and quite literally, his wife’s life?
When you learn interesting things about people, or society, add it to your characterization arsenal.
Learn to ask questions. Dig deeper. Don’t take things at face value.
Take the opposite view of your own beliefs. How can it change up your character?
In the Sweet By and By, a novel I wrote with country artist Sara Evans, I argued a pro choice abortion stance as adamantly as I argued the pro life side.
Now I am pro life. For sure. But because I’ve listened to pro choice arguments, I could give a voice to my pro choice character. The reader could vehemently disagree with my heroine’s mama, but by George, they believed she was real.
Hollow words, hollow values, make for hollow characters. Many times while judging stories in unpublished contests, the characters merely parrot what I’m sure are the author’s values or that of their church denomination or socio-economic views.
The characters don’t sound real. They sound and feel like talking heads.
Then weave it into your characters. Your stories will be stronger and your readers all the more devoted.
Her novel, Once Upon A Prince, is a 2014 Christy Award Finalist.