A couple of days ago there was another report in the news about the terrible consequences of cyber-bullying, kids using social media to dis their classmates on a massive scale. Not that gossip and slander are new. They’ve always been around; only the tools have changed. Consider the case of Mr. Wickham:
I have no right to give my opinion,” said Wickham, “as to his being agreeable or otherwise. I am not qualified to form one. I have known him too long and too well to be a fair judge. It is impossible for me to be impartial… (but then he goes ahead and dishes his dirt on Darcy anyway)...We are not on friendly terms, and it always gives me pain to meet him, but I have no reason for avoiding him but what I might proclaim to all the world; a sense of very great ill usage, and most painful regrets at his being what he is… His behavior to myself has been scandalous. (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 16)
When Wickham is done, Mr. Darcy’s reputation is in tatters.
Gossip and slander play pivotal roles in my novel For Myself Alone. In fact, the prologue is nothing but. Do you remember that party game we used to play as kids where you send a “secret” through a string of people, whispered ear to ear until it comes out unrecognizable at the other end? I think we called it “gossip,” actually. Anyway, that’s what I had in mind when I wrote that section. Although there’s no malicious intent in this instance, the results were still damaging. Later in the book, a life-long friendship is nearly destroyed by a more deliberate case of character assassination.
In both novels, the gossip/slander comprise and important part of the conflict necessary for a good story. As writers, we have to torture our characters on the page. As human beings, I hope we are kinder with the words we say, write, text, and tweet.