Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Gossip - More Than Meets the Eye


“You do not know me, and rest assured, you never shall.” — Lady Whistledown in
Netflix Bridgerton

Today I want to examine gossip by exploring its link to storytelling. Yes, even Fantasy Fiction can utilize this age-old human proclivity to talk about others behind their backs. Some novels even have plots that revolve solely around the revelation of such unverified "truths".

For the purpose of this post, I am defining gossip as talking or writing about other people's business in a sensational, judgmental and/or unverified way. In writing, it's easy to see the usefulness of this tool, but the question is, why do we do it in the first place? What's the fascination? 

Why We Gossip

Samantha Holder from the International University of Florida says, "Gossip has served as a survival tool since prehistoric times. In fact, the citizens of Ancient Greece relied on idle talk and rumors to determine which members of their community could not be trusted."

René Magritte - at the Atomium in Brussels, Belgium

But why?

Evolutionary biologists tell us that, as humans, we are hardwired to connect with a social group of up to 150 individuals. From where I'm sitting it seems like a lot. I sure don't have that many people in my life. 

I mean, how would I keep track of such a large clan?

One of the ways our ancestors managed to connect with so many others was to know their business. In other words, to gossip about them. By doing so, according to research, earlier humans reinforced community bonds, stimulating the prefrontal cortex (our ability to form complex relationships). All this was done by sharing information and expressing feelings. The results was to better understand the current social order. 

Add to all this, gossiping can light up the pleasure centres in the brain. ie, it's entertaining and fun. At least, it can be.

Gossip in the Modern World

With nuclear families, isolation and city dwelling vs agrarian communities, contemporary humans are hard-pressed to feel connected to 150 important others, save through a wider, parasocial circle. This includes politicians and leaders, celebrities on the big screen, small, and heroes in the sports/science fields. 

And of course, there are content creators on YouTube to follow. :)

When we talk about or gossip about these others in our life, we are fulfilling our drive to stay connected to the clan. 

Basically, we gossip to survive.

Gossip in Storytelling

Given this history, it seems quite natural for fictional characters to gossip about each other. When authors write such scenes, it  can provide the reader with one of four things:

Information (What's happening)

Insight (Why it's happening)

Interest (Entertainment!)

Instinct (Who the character really is)

As Cynthia Ozick says in The Novel's Evil Tongue:  Gossip is the steady deliverer of secrets, the necessary divulger of who thinks this and who does that, the carrier of speculation and suspicion. 

In this capacity, gossip becomes one of the writer's best tools. 

By using gossip in dialogue and plot, authors can inform the reader of many things without bogging down the narrative in information and description. As well, this kind of dialogue can help readers draw their own conclusions as opposed to being spoon-fed the story one bite at a time. 

Alice Sun can turn invisible, and oh
the secrets she learns.
Gossip can also introduce topics and ideas about the plot and characters without the use of backstory. To top it off, gossiping characters show something about themselves without needing the author to spell it out.

Here's an example from Crown of Bones

From Marcus's POV, he and his company ride through the rolling hills of Palrio on a dangerous journey to the Isle of Aku. Belair, an unknown peer who has just joined them, strikes up a conversation with the reluctant Marcus. 

Note what you learn about all five characters discussed in this snippet without even trying.


“They’re adorable,” Belair says, nodding to Samsen and Piper as they ride ahead, out of earshot.

“I guess.” Adorable? Why are we talking about this? 

“There’s a story there, I’ll wager.” Belair sounds more than a little curious. “She’s older than him, right?” He asks of Piper, but his eyes stay on Sam.

“I... ” I’d rather discuss anything else, training on Aku, his warrior phantom, navigating these enemy lands. 

Ash, who rides on my other side, clears her throat. The sound is a familiar one. It’s her way of telling me to be nice to our new company member, no matter that I resent him.  

I nod my head toward the healer. “Ten years ago, when Piper was sixteen, she’d just earned her orange robes…”

“That’s young.”

“It is, and well deserved. Anyway, she was in the hills behind Baiseen, gathering herbs when a band of Gollnarians cornered her.”

“They were far from home.”

“A scouting party. She was badly outnumbered.”

His brows lift. “What happened?”

“Samsen, thirteen at the time, was hunting nearby. He heard the fight and sent his phantom in.”


“Golden eagle, talons like grappling hooks. But by the time Samsen reached her, his phantom was pinned under a Gollnar winged-demon, and Piper was at the bottom of a ravine, her snake chopped in half, going to ground.”

           How did they survive?” 

“He doesn't like to talk about it, but from what I gathered, Sam stayed in phantom perspective, in spite of his wounds. Fought them off. Killed or cut up every last one. By then, he was bleeding so badly he nearly died.”

Belair rests his eyes ahead as his face reddens. “Truely bonded to each other then?”


          “Ahh,” he exhales as if impressed and disappointed at the same time. “So be it.”


This snippet of gossip doesn't just reveal more about the characters, but it helps Belair, the new member, catch up to his companion's history and adjust how he might fit in. 

Like gossip in the real world, it allows him to feel more connected. 

How about you? Have you noticed this aspect of dialog in any recent reading? 

And authors? Have you consciously used gossip to shed light (true or false) on a character or situation?

I'd love to hear about it! 

Let's gossip!



Kim Falconer, currently writing as A K Wilder, has released Crown of Bones, a YA Epic Fantasy with Curse of Shadows as book 2 in the series. Currently, she is working on the third book, out in 2024

Kim can be found on  AKWilder TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Throw the bones, read your horoscopes or Raise Your Phantom on the site 

    Tuesday, August 1, 2023

    When Bands -- & Bros -- Go Bad

    This year, I've been honing in on the importance of "bands of brothers" and Scooby Gangs in the Fantasy genre and storytelling, along with their natural subsets, the bromance and sister acts.

    The archetypal "band of brothers"

    Today, though, my focus is when bands go bad and found "brother-or-sister-hoods" can't survive the pressures of time or subsequent events. (By way of shorthand, I'm refering to "brotherhood" and "bromances", as the most well-known terms, but I'm including all bonds of intense friendship and loyalty, including "sisters" and "sisterhoods", within their use.)

    Quintessential "scooby-gangs"

    The whole notion, and magic, of the "band of brothers" is founded on diverse people in extreme or extraordinary circumstances, forging unbreakable bonds. We want to believe in that dream, but real life has habit of testing friendship, loyalty, and good faith -- and what can't be broken outright, may be eroded over time and by competing imperatives.

    Then there's the bromance...

    Competing and corrosive forces can stem from political, cultural, or religious loyalties, which were not at the forefront when the brotherhood was formed, but which reassert themselves afterward. Obligations of family and community, especially where these must be protected from adverse circumstance, may also undermine bromances and brotherhood loyalties. In other cases, money and advancement may be enough to undermine bonds that once felt strong enough to endure forever. 

    ...and "sister acts"

    "Needless to say", perhaps (since in fantasy we're largely having fun with the heroic and the magical) bands and "bros" that go bad are comparatively few in fantasy storytelling -- but still there to be found!  

    In an earlier post, I discussed the bromance between Rodrigo Belmonte and Ammar ibn Khairan in Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan. Their story is a classic example of how a brotherhood-in-arms that makes the heart beat faster, cannot withstand the pressures of subsequent political events, underpinned by national and religious loyalties that not only place them in opposing camps, but eventually, in direct conflict with each other. To uphold their brotherhood, Rodrigo and Ammar would have to abandon families, land and position, and go into exile -- a collective and cumulative cost that proves too high.

    Bromance and the band-of-brothers lies at the heart of David Gemmell's heroic fantasy. It's what Julia Cameron would term his "vein of gold" -- but in the Knights of Dark Renown he explores what happens when a band goes bad. The core of the story is that the loyalty and comradeship we laud in the band and bromance ideal can fuel evil when it overrides or trumps the values of good, e.g. justice, truth, compassion, and moral integrity. 

    Similarly, in The Poppy War trilogy by RF Kuang, the bonds Rin forms with her fellow students, particularly Kitay and Nezha, and with the band of disparate characters that later follows her, cannot withstand the forces of self-interest and personal ambition, class and political conflict, juxtaposed with the lust for power. In The Poppy War, every band that forms dies in infancy, if not stillborn, and the twin deathblows are always treachery and betrayal.


    Another take on bands and friendships that fall (far) short of the ideal, can be found in Joe Abercrombie's Half A King (The Shattered Sea #1.) Adverse circumstances see the protagonist, Yarvi, become one of a band of disparate (motley) refugees and escaped slaves fleeing across country in deep winter. Survival dictates they work together, and adversity forms bonds -- but the reader holds few illusions they will survive ambition, self-interest, and the gift of Yarvi (and others) for deception once the band rejoins civilization. And so indeed, by and large, it plays out...

    Reality overcoming or eroding bonds of friendship, failed brotherhoods, and broken dreams: there is -- and has to be, imho -- a place in contemporary fantasy for the flipside of the "band of brothers" ideal.

    But next month, I promise you, we shall return to happier themes. :-)


    About the Author

    Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet, and lover of story. With four books published to date, she is currently completing the final instalment in The Wall Of Night series.

    Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we.


    Previous Posts:

    February: Honing in on 2021Celebrating the "Band of Brothers"
    March: Celebrating the "Band of Brothers" in Fantasy #2
    April: Celebrating the "Scooby Gang" #3
    May: Celebrating the "Band of Sisters"
    June: From Band of Brothers To Bromance!
    July: Sister Acts: from the "Band of Sisters" to True Sisterhood