You know the moment. The controlled fury as you long to tell your nemesis exactly what you think of her. But there are a dozen of your co-workers or friends standing around you, so you simply say, “Thank you.” You may be a skilled politician, so only the two of you know what lies beneath those two little words.
Or you may betray your anger through the tone of your voice or when you spill your coffee after putting it down on your desk a little too hard.
The same is true with characters in novels. Victor Appleton could get away with Tom Swifties (“We must hurry,” said Tom swiftly), but you, the reader, no longer have a fondness for -ly words. We authors must do better.
And, I’m here to tell you it isn’t easy.
Because what happens? We fall back on clichés: arched eyebrows, tense shoulders, clenched stomachs. One of my editors told me my hero in California Sunrise should see a doctor because his stomach was upset throughout the entire book!
Yet we must convey that underlying conversation–what my acting teachers used to call subtext. Next time you’re watching a movie with a gifted actor, look for that subtext and see how effective they are at transmitting it.
Fortunately, authors can rely on the character’s thoughts to convey that interior dialogue.
In the opening of Hope in Promise Cove, Alex meets her new neighbor, Sal:
This must be the man Maggie warned her about. But her friend had failed to mention the dramatic lines of his face: His wide eyes, framed with eyelashes it seemed only men could grow, contrasted with a sharp nose, and full-lipped mouth. It was not a handsome face, but her fingers itched for the right piece of wood.
She could see it in her mind’s eye, a high-grain surface, carved with all the right angles …
“Are you done?” the man said.
“Who are you?” She widened her legs and planted her feet firmly.
“I thought I was about to be dinner, the way you were looking at me.” He grinned, and her interest—which was purely artistic up to that point—took a turn to something else. Something she refused to examine too closely.
Every conversation and gesture are designed to push him away, but internally, Alex feels something she doesn’t want to feel. We see her testiness with Sal and also understand what lies beneath through her thoughts.
To find out what happens, purchase Hope in Promise Cove, releasing Sept. 19, 2022!
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