The Unspoken Truth

Last week I talked about the love triangle, one of the many obstacles that can be thrown at a romantic couple in story.  This week I want to talk about the unspoken truth, otherwise known as the awkward silence.

This obstacle is one of the things that can make a reader shout at a book, “Just tell her already!”  One of my favorite authors (Mercedes Lackey) used this to great effect in her first trilogy.  The unspoken truth is that conversation that just needs to happen, but for whatever reason, the characters refuse to have it.  It can be tied to a love triangle, as well, which makes it even more interesting (or frustrating, depending on your point of view).

There are two major ways to set this up with your characters.  The first is to start it with a misunderstanding, or even a fight.  (This is where you can tie it in to a love triangle, especially if the triangle isn’t real, just the perception of one character.)  Someone makes an incorrect assumption and removes themselves from the situation, the other one doesn’t know why the first pulled back and is hurt, and suddenly your romantic couple are no longer even speaking to one another.  Obviously that’s just one way to develop it, but really, a lot of these awkward silences grow out of some type of misunderstanding.

The other way comes from character traits, rather than any actual event.  This is where you use flaws like shyness, insecurity, or stubbornness to your advantage.  The boy is too shy to tell the girl how he feels.  The girl can’t imagine that a boy like that would be interested in her, so she misreads or ignores his advances.  Both characters know that they are interested, but both are too stubborn to be the first one to say anything.  These types of silences are just as effective as ones based on misunderstandings.

Of course, it’s really fun to use both.  There’s a misunderstanding, they stop talking, she realizes she was wrong but is too stubborn to admit it, he’s convinced he’s no good for her, etc. and so on.  I say it’s fun, but that’s from an author’s point of view.  Authors like to make their characters work for it.  Readers, of course, want to strangle the characters (and their creator) for their inability to just have the conversation already.  You have to admit it, though; a well-written unspoken truth obstacle makes it that much sweeter when the couple finally gets it figured out!


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. writewithoutborders
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 17:21:20

    I’m also in the throes of writing a novel! Though I haven’t put pen to paper in months. I keep trying to go back and finish writing it but something always stops me! I’m so angry with myself! Anyway, I like your post! Very helpful! Keep at it!


  2. Joe Pineda
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 18:57:51

    Although I don’t read or write romance material (save for a short story I’ll publish soon), this was a great article to read. The unspoken truth, as you called it, is definitely a clear and effective way to engage readers and have them participate in conflicts within the book. Even if that participation, passive as it is, can only amount to throwing a quiet fit at the characters involved, it translates into a valuable, priceless asset for writers: emotional investment.


    • Leigh Townsend
      Apr 02, 2012 @ 17:14:29

      I agree that it is important to have readers engaged in the character’s lives, and if they’re upset about the turns in the relationship, it means that the author succeeded in that effort.


  3. YerMom
    Apr 02, 2012 @ 06:47:17

    One of my favorite examples of this is in “While you were sleeping” when the third party is in a comma, very interesting way to create a triangle. 🙂


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