08 February 2013

Sometimes it's not What You Say

The language of love/slips from my lover’s tongue/Cooler than ice cream/And warmer than the sun…
            Annie Lennox, Who’s That Girl?

Words are strange things. We who speak the same language learn many of the same words as children, are taught what those words mean and how to combine them into sentences and paragraphs so as to get our points across. Yet, for each of us, comprehending what we hear is dependent on a number of personal attributes—what part of the world or country are you from, how did you grow up, what’s most important to you? Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to love.

Have you ever had a girlfriend whose boyfriend/husband/significant other says things to her you find distasteful or offensive? Or heard a woman say something to her male partner that made you cringe? For you those things might be a deal-breaker but for the couples involved it may be nothing big. In the language of their relationship those words might not mean the same thing as they do to you. As authors it can be a difficult task to get our characters to say the right things, to speak of love in a way that’s authentic to them and yet both recognizable and heartwarming to the reader. And it’s not always sufficient for them to simply say, “I love you.” Sometimes that just won’t cut it.

The language of love is just like the language of pain—the more you know the person, the more effective your words are. There are things I know about my husband that a casual acquaintance, or even a fairly good friend, wouldn’t. Since I like to use my powers for good, not evil (hehehe), I often use that knowledge to say things I know will make him feel amazing. Some of these things can be said in front of others, and they wouldn’t have a clue that I just said something extremely personal and important to my man, using our secret language of love. (No, I’m not going to give you an example! *shoo, shoo*)

I try to use the same strategy when writing, but it’s only effective if the reader knows and understands the characters, can hear the underlying nuances of the words. I have to let the reader into the characters’ secret selves for them to appreciate the sentiment behind the dialogue, even if sometimes the character being spoken to doesn’t yet fully appreciate what the person speaking is trying to do.

And at other times it’s not the words but the actions that speak of love. Sometimes it can be one character giving in to another’s needs, stepping back when they don’t want to, stepping up to the plate when what they really want to do is turn away. Saying, “Yes, I’ll do that for you,” when every instinct says, “Run like the wind!” can be a far more loving phrase than, “I adore you.”

So the language of love has its own vocabulary both in real life and in fiction. Learning your own and your mate’s, I think, really is key to a happy relationship. Likewise, understanding your characters in the same way, what they want, what they need to be happy, allows your reader to see why sometimes even the word, “No,” is a declaration of true and sincere love.
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