Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Beneath the surface

"Morning."
"Morning."
"Sleep well?"
"Yeah."

Somewhere in your piece will be those lines of dialogue. (You can build up to the first "Morning.")

Not much to go on. Or, really, too many possibilities! This is from an exercise on subtexting from Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins. The point is that we often don't say what we mean ... and it builds tension when our characters don't either.

The first "Morning," might really mean, "Where were you last night?" or "I know where you were last night (heh, heh, heh)," or "I'd like to bash your head in with a 2x4," or "I wish everything were as normal as I'm trying to make it feel."

One challenge of hinting at what's beneath the surface is that only one character, the point of view character, reveals their thoughts to the reader. The other character offers only a tiny, foggy window into what they're thinking through their body language, facial expression, tone and what they're saying instead of what they mean. What's going on beyond the fog is open to interpretation by the reader and by the, not necessarily objective, other character. (The point of view character is often not objective about their own thoughts and feelings either!) But the cool thing is that not knowing builds tension also and raises questions in the reader's mind that makes them want to read on and find the answers. (Which are all the current skills I'm working on!)

As always, and as mundane as the lines are, don't feel tied to a contemporary setting.
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