As people, we are raised with certain values, behaviors that slot us into socially acceptable norms. The simple things that separate us from good and bad. Using these behaviors in characters can be rewarding both good and bad.
Simple values that we take for granted such as privacy. Having that violated can cause fantastic conflict or inner turmoil for a character. It can also give a villain or antagonist opportunity to shine. Writing bad people is fun, fun because they can step outside the social boundaries and wreak havoc on those that don’t. They can do what the average person won’t.
Some examples of people who may violate privacy purposefully or accidentally:
A child who hasn’t learned to respect privacy
A well-meaning parent suspecting child of wrongdoings
A teacher who over steps their boundaries
A boss or coworker who snoops
A friend who feels slighted or isn’t truly a friend
A stranger stealing identity
A stranger who broke into a house/apartment
A friend or family member looking in a private place innocently
Examples of ways to violate one’s privacy
Read a diary
Rummage through a desk/bedroom/closet/office
Go into a wallet, purse or bag
Break into/invade one’s home/car
look through a medicine cabinet
hack a computer
Peeping through a window, door or via hidden camera
Read employee records without permission
walk into the bathroom on someone
Listen in on a conversation, phone-call or voice mail
Enter a room/house/yard/garage without permission
Reading someone’s mail/email/text messages or test results
Good intentions or not, breaching one’s privacy can be disruptive. I use this invasion as a way to foreshadow a character who may stray from the right side or who is already bad, but hiding it. Snooping people are interesting because they so casually break a rule of honor.
Scott’s eyes narrowed as he watched Amber and Dale leave for lunch together; giggling and teasing one another. There was no way she hasn’t had sex with multiple candidates. Why Dale? Scott intended to find out.
He glanced around. Most of the office was empty by now and so he casually made his way to Amber’s desk. He adjusted her chair as he sat and unlocked her computer. Clifton gave him access to the spyware that logged all passwords in the event of sudden termination. The information he was finding very useful these days.
“Alright, Amber what game are you playing?” Scott opened her browser history and quickly found her private email, opened it and started reading.
“Incognito does not mean hidden moron.” Scott mumbled to himself and shook his head as he opened one sent to her mom titled ‘unsure’. He started from the beginning and as he read a sly grin spread across his face.
“Bingo.” Scott quickly copied the conversation and sent it to a dummy email he set up earlier. He authorized another access so she wouldn’t be alerted when he checked her email from another computer.
“She’s not smart enough to figure that out anyway.” Scott set her computer back to how she left it and went back to his office to do some research.
Unless two people are in cahoots on a privacy offense, an infringement is likely a solitary activity. What I like to do in this sort of scenario is leave a bit of mystery and have the perpetrator make a mistake (Yes Scott made one). One that may or may not be noticed later on. What I won’t do is have someone magically witness it without making that known at the time of the incident. There’s not much worse than the surprise revelation to the reader that Rachael witnessed the whole thing but it wasn’t mentioned until later. “Hey, I saw Scott on your computer yesterday.” Ugh. Incidentally having someone caught red-handed is also an abundantly wealthy source of drama. Just don’t use the cliché term “Red-handed”.
My advice about privacy and invading it.
It’s such a successful way to subtlety show characters true to nature, whether they resist the urge to peek at an email left open or blatantly snoop to read it, you can let the reader develop emotions toward the character.
A post or two from a while ago.