Friday, August 7, 2009

Words from the Inside out: The Spoken and The Unspoken

People watching? Conversation watching?
Ever just sat and watched people? Not in a creepy sort of way, I'm just talking about being aware of how people interact. I find myself doing it all the time. Maybe it's the writer in me, but human behaviour has always fascinated me. What people say intrigues me even more.

I was at a wedding recently, which was fantastic, my new sister-in-law is stunning! But I have to say weddings are interesting little world's all of their own aren't they? Old meets young, business owner meets stay at home mum... a host of people, all with about two things in common- knowing the bride and groom. Eventually, as the night rolls on, people find they have more to say than they previously imagined. This is about the same point in the evening where people discover they can indeed dance or begin to question whether they should give up their day job for a promising singing career...might have something to do with the glasses of bubbly that have been passing their lips ...just a hunch.

Is what we say a reflection on us?
Most people at this wedding were well behaved. Not too many eccentric Aunties floating around the dance floor, but plenty of animated conversations. I may or may not have been apart of a few of these...and I found myself questioning how much of what was said was true to who those people really are. I know words we speak are only one part of the way we communicate. Body language, pitch, tone... all these things have great meaning. I can hypothesise about what someone might have really meant if their body language seems to disagree with their spoken words. But at the end of the day what is said is what is said.

Is what we don't say just as important?
I think what we say speaks a great deal about how we view ourselves and those around us, but I think what we don't say or what we allude to speaks even louder. I am always interested when someone purposefully changes a topic of conversation, or answers a question with a question. I like listening to how people describe what they do, their jobs, and their families, but I am even more interested in the information they glide over or let slip out then obviously cover up. I find the questions that people ask others are often more telling then the answers they give. I find myself wondering about the intentions behind questions or the motivations behind some self revelations. I am often amazed by the information that complete strangers are willing to divulge if you are willing to listening.

Writing between the lines.
As a writer I am often listening with a third ear. I want to hear what is said in between the words spoken. This is the sort of stuff that I use to build three dimensional characters or make my own perspectives in my memoir come alive.
What should I reveal and what should I purposefully withhold?

I make these decisions every time I interact with anyone and when I write I try to become even more conscious of what I am saying or not saying and why.
Behind every book is a myriad of just such questions and how skillfully they are answered directly impacts my take on characters and the quality of the woven threads of a book. Those books that I love most are ones that breathe humanity into written words and skillfully withheld dialogue.

I wonder about my own words.
If I paint characters through what I allow them to reveal or conceal about themselves in dialogue, how much more do I portray about myself through the words of my mouth? Just a side thought. Worth pondering perhaps...

What about you?
Have you ever been aware of purposefully withholding information when you write to serve the greater purpose of revealing character motivations or building on plot etc. ?
How do you use withholding of information to portray your characters?
If you don't write, how has something a person has said or withheld impacted you before?

I'm new to all this writing stuff, so these are just musings from my head. Feel free to add your own.


  1. I just love sitting and watching people interact. I try to figure out what their stories are. I'm sure I'm always wrong but my made-up stories about them are probably more interesting than the truth.

  2. I LOVE people watching. I wish I could be invisible sometimes so I could just sit and stare at people. I'm also fascinated bye people and the things they/we say.

    I have purposefully witheld thing from my readers for the greater good before.

  3. Hi Tabitha,
    Just wanted to pop on over and thank you for the lovely comment on my blog. Happy to find a fellow traveler on this healing journey.
    Karen Walker

  4. As a writer, it's good to remember that your characters are not there to move the story forward. They are there to live their own lives and move their life forward. If they're true to themselves, they're not going to reveal something detrimental to their lives just because you need it to come out at this point in the plot. They are, after all, real people (at least for the amount of time they're alive in this book).

    That's my take on it, anyway.

    Straight From Hel

  5. Great post! I need to take the time to observe more often. I love the idea of listening to conversations and figuring out the intent and what's 'not' being said. We all have different sides, one we show to the world and one we keep for ourselves.

  6. Interesting post! I enjoy people watching and have found it a wonderful way to help develop my characters. I've definitely withheld information to help reveal character motivation, learning slowly that readers don't need you to tell them everything--and sometimes it's more fun that way!

  7. i had to really work at not telling too much. my fab crit buddy would say...leave something to the reader's imagination. but i was so scared that if i didn't tell them exactly the way I wanted them to understand it...they wouldn't get it! but reading's so subjective that even if i were to spell out what i wanted them to know...a reader would probably still have a different idea about it. :) great post to get you thinking!

  8. I do a lot of foreshadowing, sometimes to my own undoing lol! I like to mold the story as the author and not go along for the ride as the reader. I've done both and prefer writing as the former. Great informative post. BTW, I Love people watching...

  9. People withhold information intentionally? Wow, someone should break that news flash to my mother-in-law. No Filter. It's how the Albertson's check out lady got invited to my wedding.
    When I write I like to go along as a reader, learning everything my characters want to tell me until I see a plot forming and then I take over to guide them in the right direction. I think that being a people watcher really helps build dynamic characters in my subconscious to work with.

  10. I'm definitely a people watcher. My husband calls it a staring problem. And yes, I withhold information about my characters so they and the plot can develop throughout the book.

  11. Hi Tabitha, it is my first time here in your blog and I am so happy to be here. I enjoyed reading your post. :)

  12. stephanie- I thought I was the only one who made up 'stories' for other people's lives!
    Katie- I know, my starring can boarder line on rude. I have to watch it. I want one of those invisible cloaks that Harry Potter has.
    Karen- thanks for popping over, and it was my pleasure. I am glad to have found your blog.
    Helen- that's an interesting take on it. I hadn't thought of it that way. It's nice when you get to the point of being able to write so well that you don't have to think about whether or not one of your characters would say something or not... I am not quite there yet. I still have to ask myself why I am writing something.
    angela- thanks for the comments. That's true, we do have different sides.

  13. Cindy-I really REALLY agree. Telling everything upfront makes reader feel like they aren't required to think. I want my readers thinking. :)
    Jeannie- sounds like you have a great crit partner. Where do you find them???
    T. Anne- foreshadowing? I don't know a lot about that. I'll have to investigate.
    Melody- LOL! Did that lady actually go to your wedding?
    Lazy writer-me too! :)
    Grace- nice to meet you. Hope you visit again. :)

  14. Hi. Very interesting blog. You don't waste your time in these weddings, do you? I hate weddings, because I am not very good at small talk. I am the one who doesn't ask any questions, but answers a few and smiles a lot.

    People are the most fascinating thing in the world. Real people. I think that and that's why I only write about people and their stories, not about the stories and the people in it, you know?

  15. Great post Tabitha! I love to people watch also. Lots of questions here... I probably need to work on this with my writing. Although I know I've witheld info in my stories, I'm not sure if I did it successfully.
    Interesting stuff to think about!

  16. Yes!!! I have purposefully withheld things in my WIP to reveal later, only to find that my readers are confused. So, I suppose I will have to find a better balance. This writing stuff is HARD work!!!!

  17. Jessica- yeah sorry about all the questions! Just throwing them out of my head and on to 'paper'. I think I need to wrok on these things in my writing too.
    Sherrinda- Oh, I know the feeling. Sometimes I think i am being so clever only to discover that readers are a tad lost in my writing! :)

  18. I also love people watching (I've also managed to convince myself that this is why I watch so much reality TV, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't count).
    Being a little more introverted myself, I'm a firm believer that we probably communicate more by what we *don't* say than what we do.
    Great post! And thanks for visiting my blog! :)

  19. Hey Sarah, nice to have you here :) Your blog is fantastic.
    Are you sure day time T.V. doesn't count as people watching? I vote it does :)
    And I couldn't agree more, I think we communicate far more by what we aren't saying.

  20. Considering how much of communication is made up of gesture, tone and facial language, it amazes me even more the pictures writers are able to paint through words alone.......really amazing

  21. wow. you box? i'm totally intimidated now.
    great blog. i'm following you now. check out/follow mine. i have all things books...
    nice seeing you.

  22. Hi Kelly, thanks for stopping by. I love your blog and joined up to follow. Yeah, I box, but you've written books girl- the published variety! Now I am the one who is intimidated :)