Like Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll, the words truth, gossip, and rumor captivate reader’s and writer’s minds as if engaged in a strong addiction. Gossip and rumors, they can be the driving forces of stories. I’ve said this before, but almost everyone will perk their ear toward a group of people talking gossip, will ease a bit closer to hear what’s being said. If we, as publishers and writers, could capture this sort of rapt attention all the way through out books then we would consistently have best-sellers on our hands. As the saying goes, “What’s truer than the truth? The story of course,” comes to mind.
For better or worse, we also have to enter truth in to the equation. This is where the runaway train we call gossip is halted as if running into a cement wall. We will listen to the latest celebrity gossip, or work place rumors eagerly, but only for so long. At some point if all we hear is the child hollering “Wolf,” or if the ceaseless gossip is mean-spirited, inaccurate, or too petty we tune out and walk away with more than disinterest, but with a feeling of disgust. In fact, we may start our own variety of gossip about the gossip tellers.
Recently, an episode of “This American Life” dealt with just such a topic. One of their stories turned out to be inaccurate. The host of “This American Life” confronted the story-teller and in-between silences we heard a classic attempt by someone trying to “justify” their story. However, it was clear the story-teller had broken the gossip/rumor line and entered the area in which we require “truth” in order to continue to form belief. It’s always a fine line between hearsay and truth.
Exaggeration is a good way to make this whole point. A certain amount of exaggeration can cause readers to want more, but too much causes us to stop listening. As a small publisher I often hear from authors about how they are “starving” artists, I suspect they use this exaggeration on me because they’ve heard other writers say this, but the truth hits me in the opposite fashion they want it to. The truth is I’m a small publisher, who, if they thought about it, is certainly more starving than they are. This is a classic example of needing to match your audience with your story.
Learning to insert hearsay, truth, gossip is a challenge for all writers. There use requires you to balance your writing in order to tell a truth that is truer than truth.