I had a terrible day a few weeks ago. When I finally crawled into bed, my husband was already asleep. That was great with me because I really didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I tucked myself up into a ball and rolled up against the mighty wall of his thick-muscled back as tightly as I could.
As I listened to his heartbeat and to the rumble-not-quite-snore of his dreaming, I was slowly comforted. No matter what days come, I thought, I have this.
And then something struck me so hard I literally jolted, causing him to pat my leg absentmindedly (no doubt thinking, Shh, shh, let me sleep—don’t wake me up . . .). What I realized was this: There are other people who, when they feel bad, sneak onto their side of the bed without making a sound and lie there, silent in their misery, alone—the body beside them being the last person they would—or could—seek comfort/solace/respite in.
And because I’m a freak and can never totally escape my inner writer, I had to turn this sweet moment of gratefulness into a craft lesson. I thought about the writing rule, “Show don’t tell,” and how in general, the way a couple positioned themselves in bed at the end of a bad day would be a powerful indicator of how they related to each other.
What I did says something about me. What my husband did (in not rolling away and burrowing his head under a pillow when I’m sure having my knees jammed against his back and me sniffling and flinching wasn’t exactly a big pleasure) says something about him.
People reveal themselves—their passions, their fears, their insecurities, their hopes, their strengths, their vices—in a million ways in little moments everyday. And often, because none of us are perfect or completely consistent, even with ourselves, there are tiny contradictions that may (rightfully or wrongfully) colour our interpretations of people.
A relationship might seem rocky or strained when couple snipes at each other in public—but that falls away, or at least loses weight, when they hold hands when no one else is around and he opens the car door for her or she gets him his favourite snack. And vice-versa, Shakespeare’s famous line, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” can apply in a negative way to romantic love too. If a couple is too sugary-sweet and all over each other all the time in public (and they’re older than nineteen), I confess I’m a little sceptical about the strength of the tie that binds them . . . (But than again, maybe not—maybe they’re genuinely more touchy-feely and I’m just an old curmudgeon!)
Now how about you . . . Do you consciously consider little “throwaway” moments that reveal your characters’ relationships with themselves, their mates, their kids, their friends, etc? Do you notice what, if any, contradictions exist between what they say and how they act? Is it harder, in your opinion, to show nuances of love or nuances of trouble brewing . . .