Monday, February 13, 2012

Dancing Around the Elephant

My husband hurt my feelings the other day. Apparently, he knew it--or read it in my eyes--because he shoulder-nudged me. The ol' "I didn't mean it" shoulder-nudge. When that didn't work, he did what he could to make me laugh. His attempts are always hard to resist. One of the reasons I love him is because he makes me laugh, so I couldn't help but to giggle.

But I didn't let him off the hook.

There was no point discussing it. We both knew the name of the elephant in the room. We've been married so long that the words "I'm sorry" are reserved for the really big stuff, so we've both mastered the art of non-verbal apologizing. And we both recognize the other's code for "forgive me."

He became agreeable, helpful, attentive. All nice, all worth milking for however long I felt he should feel guilty. Of course, he won't play penitent husband for long, so he brought out the big guns. As we bowed our heads over our meal, he said a special prayer for me to remain healthy and have a good day.

Of course I granted an immediate reprieve. What else could I do?

Non-verbal cues come in handy in life and in writing. Using dialogue to show an all-out war between a couple can be fun, but using finesse and nuance can be challenging and more effective. What isn't said can blare from a page.

Are you illustrating strong emotions? Look for the less obvious. A passive-aggressive who's ticked off may add too much salt to a stew before setting it before the object of her ire. A woman who simply "doesn't want to talk about it" will go to extremes to change the subject. A man who's on the verge of tears at seeing his daughter in her wedding gown may crack a joke.

You don't have to look farther than your own idiosyncrasies and those of the people you're most familiar with to find examples. Capture these for the page to add depth to the emotions you want to portray.
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  1. Thanks, Liberty, glad you liked it!

  2. A good story filled with tension will have lots of nonverbal cues. Sometimes tension can rise simply from your characters lack of understanding the other's nonverbal cues - that can be fun too! :) Good post!

  3. Great point! The nonverbal cues are like the underwater part of that iceberg we're always talking about. That kind of depth and subtlety is what brings characters to life.

  4. Lynnette--keeping tension up is the name of the game!

    Katie--I like your simile, it's perfect!

  5. I love, love, love very true and helpful. You even made me LOL and chuckle to myself with your picture words. TY for sharing this inspiration and insight!

  6. Excellent! Such a great reminder of how art imitates life. :) Also perfect timing for me who is about ready to write a scene that will need to have prolific nuance/finesse bits... wish me luck. HAH

  7. You've just reminded me about the nuances that we all see yet "don't" see. They are seamless parts of who we are and how we as human (animals) behave. I often forget to include these very human reactions as I write. thanks a ton for the reminder to let my characters be like me...human.

  8. @Nona--how did your scene come out?

    @Khaalidah--absolutely. And non-verbal cues are a great characterization tool. How our characters respond to these cues, or deliver them, tells a lot about who they are.