Monday, July 11, 2011

Freewrite of the Week: Things that are Worse Left Unsaid

by Jacqueline Fauni

Unless you’ve been unyieldingly blunt your whole life, you’ve probably experienced the backlash of saying one thing and meaning another.  And I’m not talking about idioms.  What I’m talking about are the things we say with the often counterproductive hope that people will read between the lines, respond the way we want them to, and -- here’s the tricky part -- actually mean it.  As irrational or futile as this strategy can repeatedly prove to be, it remains a standard device in our social interactions and, as art imitates life, makes a regular appearance in our characters’ dialogues.

Take the "Does this make me look fat?" conversation -- a classic example that has put many a man in an impossibly precarious position.  You’ve seen it in countless films, episodes, and commercials -- a woman grimacing in front of a mirror, turning this way and that, smoothing the form-fitting cocktail dress she has to wear to a gala that night.  Then the camera slowly pans out and you see a guy fidgeting in the corner until she asks him the dreaded question.  His response?  As many different answers as there can be, it must be a variation of "no" if he wants to avoid the couch.   

Of course, fiction or a lot of moxie can get people to respond in a way others wouldn’t (and are advised not to) try at home.  Let’s say Fidgeting Guy was possessed by Rhett Butler and blurted out, "Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn," before jauntily walking off into the fog that has inexplicably filled the bedroom.  Not likely in real life, but much more interesting than a faint-hearted, "Of course not, honey."  Switching things up can turn a nameless couple’s cliched interaction into a scene packed with character and chemistry that is singularly and undeniably yours.  Take the maddening, skillful manipulations of Scarlett O’Hara and add a dash of the dashing, undaunted, and deliciously rakish (yes, I’m a big fan) Rhett Butler, and you’ve got a dynamic that can yield scenes and scenes of explosive energy you know belongs only to Ms. Margaret Mitchell.  

Your task: Write a scene in which one character surreptitiously tries to get another character to say what he or she wants to hear.

Whether you write your characters' interaction as amicable, volatile, decidedly done, or open-ended, just remember to have fun!

Good luck, and happy writing!

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