I’ll admit that I’m not one of those people who does a great job with social cues. In fact, I frequently don’t know what to make of exchanges I have with other people. Are they trying to tell me something? Are they hinting at anything? I’m one of those people that you just have to come out with a sledgehammer and hit me over the head with it. I am not going to pick up on your hints. Do you want your child to be worked into the drama carpool? Do you wish I’d stop talking about writing during lunch? Did I make you mad because I forgot to ask how your weekend trip went? You should tell me.
I was with two other moms at my daughter’s book club meeting a few days ago. Their daughters are also in the Brownie troop that I co-lead (yes, I’m overextended. Bleh.)
We were supposed to have an investiture ceremony for the girls and the facility wasn’t available that day of the week. The other leader suggested an alternate date—the one night I wasn’t available because of a meeting. Unfortunately, it meant we had to restructure the event to make it less fun for the girls….the potluck part of the evening wasn’t going to happen, but we could have cake.
So we’re talking during the book club and one mom says to the other, “We could have had the investiture on the 12th, but Elizabeth couldn’t do it. She has this busy schedule now that she’s got two book series, you know. Always making these author appearances.”
Since I’m clueless about social cues, but I like to do a Good Job (at Brownie leading, too), I tried to dissect this later. Was she being mean? Was there a roll of the eyes? A slight smirk? Was there anything in her tone to suggest she thought I was being difficult? Or a diva? Am I not doing a Good Job?
Was she simply explaining the situation to the other mom? Why the date wouldn’t work?
Was she poking fun at me?
Was she trying to laugh with me? In which case it didn’t work since I was frowned in confusion at her before I changed the subject.
Then I just gave up analyzing it from a personal standpoint since I was never going to figure it out anyway. And thought about it from a writing standpoint. As I write more and more, I’m becoming even more of a fan of subtlety. I think it’s tough to do with 75,000 words, but I’m trying.
The scene above….it could be played out so many different ways. What is the person’s motivation? Their background? Are they normally snide? What about the person they’re addressing? Are they sensitive? Or clueless like me?
Leaving the reader wondering might be good, too. Or you could have different people have different reactions and assessments of the conversation. That’s only natural since different people bring different experiences to the table when they’re reading a situation.
You can change the syntax to bring a different slant to an important scene. Just by choosing slightly different wording, you can change the entire tone of an exchange. It can go from innocent to menacing.
You can show reactions of other characters through speech or demeanor.
You can show the facial expressions or physical actions of the person talking—are they agitated? Are they too calm? Does their voice have an edge to it? Are they blissfully unaware of the reaction they’re producing?
I love the idea of creating little mysteries about people and their motivations in a scene. Because….do we ever really figure people out? And—for the writers out there—do we really want to? Viva la uncertainty!