How to Write a Good Scandal

If you’re going to include a scandal in your story, to be convincing, certain characteristics should be included. Without them you may end up with scattered details and no scandal.

How can you include just enough detail without giving away too much?

How many pages should it take to discover and resolve a good scandal?

Is the scandal damage permanent or does the resolution absolve everyone?

Here are some helpful characteristics:

  1. Surprise. For a situation to be truly scandalous, it should be a surprise. Something upsetting has happened no one was expecting. The bigger the surprise, the better.
  2. Expectation of Continued Behavior. Nothing is a scandal that does not include people everyone knows. People on the fringes will jump in and involve themselves if the scandal is juicy enough. People have unwritten expectations of others, especially those in some kind of authority. If that expected behavior is suddenly interrupted by opposite or at least divergent behavior, it becomes scandalous. A good scandal will take on a life of its own and spontaneously regenerate. Each telling of the story includes details added, perhaps unwittingly, by the person sharing it.

3. Feigned Concern for Those Involved. “I shouldn’t be telling you this…” When you hear those words, you know you’re on the edge of a scandal. If you’re writing about a scandal, be sure to give everyone an opportunity to show how concerned they are by telling the story again.

4. Reputation. The subject of a scandal should have a reputation, if nothing more than being a good neighbor. If a person is a scoundrel anyway, they only have that reputation and it is their expected behavior. No scandal here.

5. Gossip Worthy Details. People who live in a way that is the opposite of behaviors supposedly taken by those involved in a scandal love to talk about them. “Did you hear…” Include those words in your characters’ conversations and you will contribute to the growth of the scandal.

6. Exaggeration. “You know, I once met John Scandalous, and he told me…” The character says he met the central figure in the scandal when the truth is he heard him speak at a conference and never actually met him in person. Obviously, you will include this detail in the description of your exaggerating character so that he takes on a scandalous nature of his own. He is now a liar.

7. The ‘Glad It’s Not Me’ Syndrome. “There but for the grace of God…” People love to be included without being touched by the scandal. “I’m so thankful I don’t…” “One time, I was thinking about…” Characters talk with each other about their own weaknesses just enough to touch the shadow of scandal without being swallowed.

8. Threatened Values. A real scandal touches innocent bystanders by shaking the foundation of their values. When a respected individual takes an unexpected and opposite behavior, other people suddenly feel they may be capable of the same things.

9. Threatened Status Quo. Every day, people wake up, go to work, clean house, rake leaves, feed the dog, stop at all stop signs, pay bills, talk to friends, go home, eat dinner, go to bed, sleep, wake up, go to work, clean house, rake leaves… until someone doesn’t. The status quo keeps everyone moving in the same direction with a sense of well-being until someone takes a different behavior. A scandal shakes the status quo.

10. Threatened Personal Perspective. A good scandal will cause your characters to question the way they view the world. Everyone interprets the world through the lens of their own experience. Behavior labels depend on perspective. A good scandal will fall outside reasonable perspectives.

11. Scandal Life. A scandal should only last as long as it contributes to the life of your story.

12. Resolution. A good scandal may or may not be completely resolved. The details may hang over the story to keep everyone guessing, especially your characters. If someone is murdered, that’s not a scandal, it’s homicide. There is no possible resolution to a murder other than the “who did it?” question being answered.

There you have it. If you’re working on writing a scandal to disrupt your characters’ lives, include these elements and you’ll have a memorable scandal that will keep your characters talking and your fans reading.

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