Busybodies and Redheads

This blog is part three of six in a series designed to hone character development of protagonists in your fiction.

One of my elementary school teachers, a blonde, gave birth to twin boys with bright red hair. Her husband was dark-haired.

Perhaps in this day and age of sensitivity and multiracial adoptions, no one would flicker a proverbial eyelid at this development. Or at least they would blink in private. Unfortunately, some people weren’t so kind to my teacher. More than one asked outright about her children’s red hair.

“Their grandmother had red hair,” she was rumored to reply. I imagine she delivered her response in a sweet manner befitting her amiable disposition.

I’m not confident I would have been so patient with rude questions. How about you?


Your turn:

Does your character deal with nosy people? How?

Do the nosy people in your novel help move the plot along?

How do you use nosy or rude people to enhance your plot and to show your character’s temperament?


Character Development Series:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six

36 Responses to Busybodies and Redheads

  1. Avatar
    Sharon Kay Connell November 1, 2018 at 6:44 am #

    I don’t ask personal questions of people unless they are my close friends and I know my question has a good reason for being asked. However, I do have characters in my stories who ask (and downright pester, in some cases) questions like that. Most of the time it’s to add humor to my story. A section of comedic relief, so to speak.

    In my about-to-be-released (in a second edition – changed to deep POV) Paths of Righteousness, I have a character whom all my critiquers just loved. The adopted sister of my heroine cannot help herself but pester her sister about anything and everything. And tease? Wow, she’s an expert at it. She also talks a mile a minute. I had comments come back like, “Gotta love Beth!”

    When I made up the character, I was tempted to give her red hair because she reminded me of a cousin of mine, but opted to go with chestnut instead. She does have the ringlets though. I think the description of the physical appearance of a character should complement the personality, and chestnut colored hair seemed to do that for my impish Beth.

  2. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 1, 2018 at 6:56 am #

    I find busybodies irritating, do I don’t write them. They go into the bin along with ‘the villain you love to hate’.

    My rationale is that these character archetypes can too easily become stock stereotypes, pastiches of previously-seen literary, television and movie characters, puppets with a manipulative purpose, either exposition or the engagement of emotion on the side of the protagonist.

    There are, I think, more elegant ways to achieve such goals.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray November 1, 2018 at 7:38 am #

      Good point, Andrew!

      I think the “villain you love to hate” is a safe place for people to vent anger. The fictional villain isn’t hurt, and that anger has a place to go.

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 1, 2018 at 7:58 am #

        Point taken, Tamela…but I’m not so sure that an anger catharsis is completely safe, even using a literary villain as the focus.

        In Jonathan Shay’s landmark work on PTSD, “Achilles In Viet Nam”, he cited research that showed the ‘catharsis therapy’ of the 70s actually increased veterans’ sense of dislocation, and increased suicide.

        Far more successful was giving veterans the opportunity to serve in community; many found their meaning through assisting the handicapped, and delivering meals to shut-ins. (This may also explain a certain riter’s taking in every stray dog he finds.)

        I’ve walked a long way in the company of anger, and a fell companion he is for that walk can easily become the Green Mile of the soul.

        Mahatma Gandhi said it best, I think, and this is why I don’t include ‘love to hate’ villains, or read about them:

        “It is not that I do not get angry. I don’t give vent to my anger. I cultivate the quality of patience as angerlessness, and generally speaking, I succeed. But I only control my anger when it comes. How I find it possible to control it would be a useless question, for it is a habit that everyone must cultivate and must succeed in forming by constant practice.”

        • Avatar
          Tamela Hancock Murray November 1, 2018 at 8:40 am #

          I’m glad my observation caused you to share more insights, Andrew. Like you, I prefer to focus on what is beautiful, as the Bible advises so wisely. Perhaps all of us should consider praying for those who think they need villains they love to hate!

        • Avatar
          Judith Robl November 1, 2018 at 2:42 pm #

          Amen, Andrew.

          Anger plants a root of bitterness in the soul which often manifests as physical disease. At my age, I can’t afford to take that chance.

          I find it better to look for the faint image of God with which that person was created. Seeing that, I can then begin to see that person through the eyes of God, as a child who has strayed and whom we want fervently to restore to the fold.

  3. Avatar
    Carol Ashby November 1, 2018 at 7:53 am #

    Since my novels are Roman historicals with a romantic plotline intertwined with a spiritual arc for one of the main characters, I don’t write busybodies. I write at least as much from the male characters’ POV as the women’s, and my 30-plus years in a mostly male career taught me that very few men fit the classic busybody model.

    I do, however, have matchmakers, both male and female, who try to help characters get over misunderstandings that are keeping them apart. I also have an anti-matchmaker, who does his best to discourage the attachment he sees growing. Perhaps matchmakers are a special kind of busybody.

    In real life, I never liked busybodies, so I don’t find them appealing characters. I would recommend against writing a male busybody. I can’t say I ever knew one in all those years. Gossips, yes, but busybodies, no. Some are as bad as gossipy women, and some like to tell people what they should do, but they don’t operate like a nosy neighbor while doing it.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray November 1, 2018 at 8:44 am #

      Spot on, Carol!

      I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve asked my husband for ordinary details about his coworkers becoming new parents. He could tell me that the baby arrived, mainly because the parent was absent from work. Something he needed to know for obvious reasons! But as far as the baby’s name, if it was a boy or girl, weight, or anything else? Nope.

      My third-grade teacher said, “Tend to your own little red wagon.” I remember her words often as I journey through life.

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby November 1, 2018 at 8:45 am #

        That’s a great visual for “mind your own business!”

    • Avatar
      Natalie Monk November 2, 2018 at 12:29 pm #

      Carol, that’s interesting and so true about male busybodies being rare! I wonder if the busybody tendancies show up more in the beta-type male? Growing up around interworkings of church ministry, I’ve known six men who displayed hints of the trait, all being older, most retired or disabled in some way. They were gossipy, too, but nosy, and often meddled in affairs that were no concern of theirs. This involved matchmaking, job interference in an occupation they had no knowledge of, meddling both in social media and in person, even digging through people’s old photos and posting them around Facebook!
      Looking back, I’m not sure if I would refer to them as busybodies or just plain peculiar! Haha! 🙂

  4. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield November 1, 2018 at 10:10 am #

    I introduced an occasionally recurring busybody and complainer on page 1 to quickly develop my protagonist’s character. Having Elizabeth greet the tiresome old woman politely, summon the manners her mother had instilled in her, and patiently listen to the old lady’s all-too-familiar litany of ailments SHOWED Elizabeth’s response to difficult people in her life as well as her motivation for that action. Much more fun than just describing her as thoughtful, caring, and highly sensitive to her mother’s values.😉

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray November 1, 2018 at 11:09 am #

      Great example of craft, Linda!

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan November 1, 2018 at 7:41 pm #

      I like that, Linda. #2 has two detectives in a very small town with enough busybodies (the church ladies, mind you… helps one understand why one of the cops doesn’t like church) to talk a tornado down and send the rumors flying from Minnesota to Texas.

      They don’t get a lot of annoying in, because that would be … annoying. But they have to deal with them as those who knew the dead woman and those who saw the dead woman’s body. Making them very busy about bodies.

      sorry, I am feeling silly.

  5. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver November 1, 2018 at 12:55 pm #

    Nosy people? Busybodies? Yes, our family has had quite a lot of experience with this type of people. Like the lady in our church who asked what size undergarment I wore, and another who said, “How many children do you plan on having?”

    Yes, I think using busybody characters should come easy. There have been many examples to show the way.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray November 1, 2018 at 1:10 pm #

      Oh my! Guess when you’re around them, people like that encourage you to stay on your toes so you can think of a good comeback. I think of my best comebacks at least a half hour later…

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan November 1, 2018 at 7:46 pm #

      GASP! My friend says at my age she’d be willing to bet I could still whip out my karate. I smiled and said… well… who knows. But that kind of comment may have garnered the very inappropriate unchristian reflex slap. OK. No. But maybe inwardly. Certainly the raised brow thinking (not saying) ‘and girlfriend when are you going to stop doing the Karen Carpenter routine?’ NO JUST KIDDING. But how rude.


  6. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson November 1, 2018 at 2:10 pm #

    Goodness! Busybodies? In real life, they can be so annoying, but in novels, we have the opportunity to make them unique. Like Jackson in my first novel. He’s homeless and has his own agenda. However, he is curious and concerned about my undercover agent, Brogan. He has a personality all his own. Brogan shows a lot of patience, understanding, and compassion toward him.

  7. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage November 1, 2018 at 2:28 pm #

    When I first read your intro, I thought this post was going to be about the twists and turns of genetics. Which I find fascinating, and super relevant to character development. But, OK. Busybodies …

    This is a value or social norm that is dependent on culture and subculture. What types of personal questions it is OK to ask varies from culture to culture and from subculture to subculture. In some subcultures (it looks like most of you were raised in them), almost any personal question is considered rude. In other cultures, asking such questions is a friendly gesture, a way of getting to know someone and showing interest in them. Deborah Tannen has written some good books about how people with differing conversational norms can mistakenly take each other for being rude.

    For example, when my husband and I lived in Indonesia, the normal thing to ask a person on first meeting them was not “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?” but “What’s your address?”. This was in case you ever wanted to visit them some day. This would be followed by “Are you married?” and “How many children do you have?” And, if the answer was none, “Why not?” These are NOT busybody questions in Indonesia, but basic social interactions that allow a person to place you and develop a relationship.

    For myself, I have often been confused because I don’t know how to reach out to people and make friends. I had absorbed the value that nearly all personal questions are rude. Yet I have observed warmhearted women who seem really good at making friends, do so through polite, appropriate personal questions.

    It’s especially hard when someone has had a loss, and social convention tells you not to even mention it in their presence. I think that’s a particularly harsh social rule.

    So, when it comes to being or not being a busybody, put me down as completely confused.

    At least when I am writing a novel, I am aware of the social norms that pertain in that world. Which is more than I can say for the real world. Ha!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray November 1, 2018 at 2:55 pm #

      You are so right that it’s not easy to navigate the world! I have more than one several-hundred-page etiquette book proving so! My friend Debby Mayne is an etiquette expert. We wouldn’t need people who know all about manners if they involved more than common sense.

      I’m glad I didn’t live during certain points in history. It would have driven me crazy to try to seat people at a dinner according to their social position. I understand hostesses could be “ruined” by making any error. Of course, state dinners follow protocol, but at least most people can be casual the majority of the time.

      As for foreign countries? I’d consult the State Department on protocol, or at least a good book on the topic, if I weren’t going to be with someone in the know when visiting other lands.

      I try to make people comfortable by not being too sensitive and not assuming everything is about me. I also try to consider the person and judge the “offense” by that person’s general attitude towards me.

      You can feel free to ask me anything that you feel is within the range of common sense, Jennifer. Why? Because your comments show that you care about people. And that’s what counts.

      • Avatar
        Jennifer Mugrage November 1, 2018 at 7:00 pm #


      • Avatar
        Laura November 30, 2018 at 12:36 pm #

        I spent some time among middle eastern people and was surprised at what actually caused offense versus what I was told would cause offense. Don’t point with your finger. Use your whole hand. Nobody told me that. Don’t ask direct questions, even if you’re talking to a man. I had to figure out for myself that the Arab language lends itself to purposeful ambiguity, not the precision we strive for in the business world of English and French. From what I could tell, being too precise suggests arrogance that you know more than Allah.
        The culture book I had studied had to go out the window for the specific region I was in. If someone could have described for me the mentality instead of just listing the list of do’s and don’t’s, that would have helped me a lot. Fortunately, the natives knew I was just an American prostitute and infidel, so my behavior was not too shocking. But imagine my surprise at learning how they saw me just based on the western label.

  8. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan November 1, 2018 at 6:47 pm #


    Weird and annoying, even angry folk are those we insert here and there but not as stick characters. I love the redhead/busybody post and comments.

    My 1st has 2 sidekick cops, one a kick-arsenal black lady dispatcher and a (culturally confused) Japanese detective. While a main character is musing or brewing, fuming, or hitting the delete button, the Japanese detective flirts without hesitation with the only woman in the department, much to her annoyance. This can be done with 3 brief sentences to not interrupt flow, just two annoying people that won’t hesitate to pry into the mMC’s past.

    Angry bitter people make for great salvation stories, and we know them in real life. Bigots, racists, busybodies, rude people, funny and weird people are in our lives, and in Ephesians chapter 1, it is God who has given us His incomprehensible glorious power as adopted sons and daughters to reach out to these people and carry on His ministry. Busybodies need to hush, but we can help with that, gently. Yes?

    My take.

    • Avatar
      Jennifer Mugrage November 1, 2018 at 7:03 pm #

      Never heard “kick arsenal” before. Clever.

      Your stuff sounds fun. Do you need a beta reader? Or is it for sale anywhere?

      • Avatar
        claire o'sullivan November 1, 2018 at 7:35 pm #

        Hi Jennifer

        I am rewriting some portions right now to tighten some portions up and with some suggestions from a very wise sage (agent) that will help. Other than that it’s a done deal, tongue-in-cheek, I could be 90 before it ever sees a shelf (if prayerfully, I should say). But before I send it out, I will be in need of a Beta reader yes. That would be by Jan/Feb I suspect.

        It’s a Christian romantic/suspense, How to Steal a Romance. ‘She’s a thief, he’s a cop. And then there’s the dead body. It’s complicated.’

      • Avatar
        claire o'sullivan November 2, 2018 at 3:11 pm #

        Hi Jennifer –

        Dawned on me justa nowa. My FB page is https://www.facebook.com/AuthorClaire1/ if you want to follow there (caveat: I have a regular page where I also can be, well me).

        There you can PM me and I will send you my email address if you wish 🙂

      • Avatar
        claire o'sullivan November 2, 2018 at 3:16 pm #

        oh… I guess you need my regular page on FB to PM me.. my bad, Jennifer. Her ’tis:


        • Avatar
          Jennifer Mugrage November 2, 2018 at 8:06 pm #

          Thanks, Claire. I am not on Facebook. (Crazy, I know.)

          I am happy you have an agent. I am still in the seeking stage.

          my addy is my first name dot my last name at gmail.

  9. Avatar
    Patti Jo Moore November 1, 2018 at 6:52 pm #

    I had to smile at your post, Tamela, because I’ve always had brown hair, my husband has jet black hair, and all three of our kiddos are redheads. 🙂 I really could write a book on the comments and jokes (many from complete strangers) that we’ve heard over the years. By the time our children were teens and pre-teen, we’d been teased so much that my husband developed a standard reply: “We had a mailman with red hair. We’ve moved 3 times but he kept finding us.” That generally brought laughs (although it took me a while to stop blushing when he said that, LOL).

    In my current series, I do have an older lady who’s somewhat of a busybody, but she has good intentions so the townspeople have learned to “take her with a grain of salt.” 😉

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan November 1, 2018 at 7:02 pm #

      Patti Jo– that is hysterical!

      My sister and I are adopted, but everyone was blonde, blue-eyed except me. I knew I was adopted, of course at 4 I didn’t really get it, and in the town I grew up in (mostly Nordes and Swedes) I was the odd one out and because adoption wasn’t really popular back then, my mom got a lot of looks (she decided later to color her hair dark!)

      But, I asked my dad why I looked so different with dark hair and brown eyes. PERFECT ANSWER to a 4 year old: ‘Because you are really an Indian princess, and your tribe wants you safe until you can be crowned.’ Of course Indian princesses don’t get crowned but what did I know, I was four. I was absolutely thrilled.

      Only to find out later it wasn’t true. Dirty drats. But I still loved my dad’s answers when we were kids.

      So what a funny response to rude comments, and now of course, just icebreakers and humor.

      • Avatar
        Jennifer Mugrage November 2, 2018 at 8:08 pm #

        Aww, so sweet! I always wanted to be an Indian. Native American, that is. I would have loved to be told that. 🙂

  10. Avatar
    Debby Mayne November 2, 2018 at 6:15 am #

    Busybodies can add a little comedic relief to a story, but in real life they’re annoying. But redheads? I love love LOVE red hair! I’ve been thinking about going Lucille Ball red one of these days.

  11. Avatar
    Joey Rudder November 2, 2018 at 10:21 am #

    Another interesting thought to ponder as I move forward into the next book. Thank you so much, Tamela!

  12. Avatar
    Natalie Monk November 2, 2018 at 11:47 am #

    I knew of a lady in a similar situation. When asked where her children got “that red hair,” she was known to reply, “The postman.”
    Definitely revealed her weary indifference and snarky flair!

    I love bringing out the worst (or best!) in characters using difficult people, because they lend themselves to humorous situations.

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