The Words Unspoken

After a busy day early this week, I came home and just wanted to rest my brain. For me that usually means watching something rather than reading or writing. The video of choice that night was Mansfield Park.
I know that people often have strong opinions about the 1999 movie version of Mansfield Park. In truth, I am inclined to agree that it does not qualify as a very faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s book, but that does not prevent me from enjoying it for what it is. Fanny and Edward in the carriage headed back to Mansfield Park is one of my absolute favorite romantic scenes in any movie. It really gets to me, the idea that these two understand each other so perfectly that words are not necessary.
Remembering the scene as I was writing and editing this week really made me think about the difference between a movie and a written story.

A lot is conveyed by facial expression and body language in a movie, even when there are no spoken lines in a scene. Readers do not have that luxury. The images the story creates for them are based entirely upon the words on the page.
So, how do we as writers create these images? We are all familiar with the idea that we must “show, not tell,” so we can’t just spell it out directly. Well crafted dialog certainly can set the tone of a scene and give us some insight into the characters, too.
But what about when your characters are not speaking, at least not in words? How do you make the “speaking glance” your characters exchange actually speak to your readers?
The answer to that question is one I still struggle with at times. Body language, facial expression, internal monologue – there are any number of tools a writer can use. But how much of each, and when? Each story, each set of characters are different, so there is no one-size-fits-all rule to apply.
I guess my point here really is to remind us that our characters’ silence can, and should, speak just as loudly as their words. Use all the tools at your disposal to show their thoughts and emotions, and your characters will be that much more rounded and vivid to your readers.
And, if you can, give a movie that just happens to be called Mansfield Park a chance.

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