Miriam Wakerly, best selling author of Shades of Appley Green ask “Do they mean what they say?”
As a change from writing about writing – plot, theme, genre, characters, structure, emotion, conflict and so on – and publishing and promotion, I am toying with something more subtle. Interested?
I was thinking about how writers observe and listen. If you are a writer, you will know what I mean.
What fascinates me sometimes is how people will say something when they mean exactly the opposite and this can be very effective when portraying a character in a novel. It makes the reader think harder! What is really going on in this person’s head? Why are they saying something they can’t really mean?
Perhaps you think I have lost my marbles and I am off my trolley (love mixed metaphors!). Let’s look at an example of something really simple - and trivial. A bunch of retired women have got together in the afternoon to discuss a book. Yes, it’s a book club! They had tea and biscuits on arrival and, having pulled the book apart at length, are chatting about grandchildren, supermarket bargains and dream holidays … The host is getting fidgety and takes a surreptitious glance at her watch.
‘More tea, anyone?’ she says. Heads shake. The replies come: ‘No thank you …’ ‘Ooh, is that the time?’ ‘I must be going.’ ‘It’s nearly dark’ ‘So when’s the next meeting?’
The host meant, ‘I think it’s time we wrapped up and you all went home, ladies.’ The odd thing is that all those present instantly translate the message and reply accordingly.
Manners, social conventions are complex and fascinating. It can be challenging to close a social meeting without causing offence but is easier when the gathering is customers. ‘Last orders please!’ came the cry of the publican when pubs closed earlier than they do now, and nobody was upset, although they may have ordered another quick drink; so everyone was happy. A dinner-party is more tricky – like the book club. The host is likely to move things along step by step. ‘So, who would like coffee?’ means ‘OK the food and wine are done, it’s one o’clock, I’m weary, it’s been lovely to see you all, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing you lovely people, but … let’s prepare to say goodnight, is that OK?’ That is what she is really saying and that’s fine. Everyone understands.
In fictional dialogue, look out for those moments of what is, I suppose, dramatic irony when the character is maybe saying one thing but actually has another agenda. The false remark could be quite clearly sinister, or, where a villain is preying on the vulnerable, it could be one of those apparently simple things like, ‘I do love you, you know.’ Will this tender confession draw the young girl into his bed? Will she see through him? Will she marry him and be stepmother to his children so he can get on with his own life? Or perhaps the avowal is from a manipulative woman who wishes to find a secure financial future for herself and this shy investment banker just fits the bill!
I just wondered if this was something that writers do anyway without too much thought, or whether you have employed it with purpose?
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