It’s not nosiness – it’s research

“I’m a gossipy person—I like looking at people and how they get along with one another.”

-Jane Smiley

Love these words by the brilliant novelist Jane Smiley.

And I think this is an important trait for a novelist, after all, they are delving into the inner lives of the characters they create on the page. To do this well, it’s clear they have to take an interest in the lives of others, their innermost thoughts and dreams, their looks, their mannerisms, how they speak and how they interact with others.

When I read authors – such as Smiley – who do this extremely well, I suspect they must be good about ‘eavesdropping’ on the lives of others. Being, well, gossipy and nosy, I suppose.

After all, it’s not nosiness, it’s research. Wouldn’t you agree, writers?


  1. thenonverbalprojekts on July 14, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Although I am not a writer, as a researcher for nonverbal communication and a linguist, I have to be the same way. I have to pay attention to not only what people do and say, but also HOW they act and HOW they say it to understand how people behave. In a way, writers are definitely researchers who look for inspiration!

  2. wordfoolery on July 14, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Absolutely! The wonderful late Meave Binchy learned how to lip-read so she could “research” on bus conversations in Dublin, unfortunately she mentioned this in an interview and everybody was much more cautious afterwards.

    • kimberlysullivan on July 17, 2017 at 9:01 am

      This is a great story, Grace. Love that the Dublin commuters were on to her after a while, however. : )

  3. evelyneholingue on July 14, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    Totally agree. Once, one of my favorite American authors for young readers was asked about the first terrific sentence of his great novel Feed.
    M.T. Anderson said that he found it while being at the mall, overhearing people talk around him.
    The sentence is, “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

    • kimberlysullivan on July 17, 2017 at 9:03 am

      Great to see how creative authors are, Evelyne – even using ‘wasted’ time on chores to their advantage. In theory, I should be gathering the most material of all, since post office lines in Italy are endless. : )

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