Posted On April 8, 2016 by Print This Post

Erratic Breathing and the Steely Glare by Virginia Heath

You don’t always say what you’re thinking and neither should your characters. Author Virginia Heath joins us today to talk about how internal dialogue adds intensity and emotion to a scene. 

Welcome to RU, Virginia!

I read somewhere that 90% of all human communication is non-verbal. I am not sure I agree with the figures because I make my living using words, however I do subscribe to the idea. A lot. Sometimes it is not what we say but how we say it that is the most important. Let me give you an example–if you invited somebody new to your house you, as the eager host, cannot help but watch their reaction to your humble abode to gauge their first impressions. Forget the easy compliments. Anyone can say ‘What a lovely home!’. Those words mean nothing without the accompanying physical ‘tells’ which let you know whether or not your guest actually thinks your home is lovely. If their eyes widen with surprise, you feel good. If you watch those eyes slowly scan the room and fix on the red wine stain in the corner of your carpet that no chemicals, thus far, have been able to remove, you feel self-conscious. Ashamed. Maybe even defensive. Your opinion of your guest changes.

Just like that.

For me, a good romance novel is positively teeming with physical tells. It’s even better if I can see inside the protagonists’ heads Virginia Heathand I can see their instant reactions. I love to see the opposing points of view as quick, errant thoughts because that is exactly how we all behave. We can smile on the outside. Internally we could be seething. Or offended. Or uncertain. Or very, very bored. And these things leak out without us realising, informing the world there is far more going on than perhaps we want them to know or are comfortable with them knowing.

If you write, then you will have heard the mantra Show Don’t Tell, so when I create a scene, I have to build up the layers. Of course, were I genius, such things would flow out of my pen without conscious thought. Unfortunately, I have to work at it.

Yesterday, I was writing a scene in my latest Regency romance (Yes… I am one of those writers!) and it lacked something. Let me give you the potted gist of what is going on. I have a wealthy heiress who has escaped her kidnappers, who has been found roaming the woods by an impoverished but very proud gentleman. He hides her in his house to recuperate from her injuries, intent on delivering her safely home as soon as it is safe to do so. She’s used to the finest things in life and getting her own way. He is ashamed that he is in dire straits. Both of them secretly fancy the pants off of each other.

My scene started like this:

“I need to talk to you,” Jack said.

“He watched her carefully pop the pins back into his mother’s old pincushion and then sit up on her heels. “Talk away. I am all ears.”

“I am afraid your Mr Layton has upped the reward for your safe return.”

Yes, I am yawning too. I am not seeing any emotional or physical tells which let me know how they are feeling. Those tiny, unconscious nuances which help us to understand the significance of the moment. I don’t care about these one dimensional characters at all, so why would my reader? How does the reader know he is proud or going mad with lust?

“I need to talk to you,” Jack said feeling lustful.

“He lustfully watched her carefully pop the pins back into his mother’s old pincushion and then sit up on her heels. “Talk away. I am all ears.”

“I am afraid your Mr Layton has upped the reward for your safe return.” He knew she believed he would turn her in because he was poor.

Eeew… Kill me now! I am telling, not showing and I have made the scene worse with my clumsy attempt at adding what my teenage daughter calls ‘the feels’. I am a useless failure of a writer. A fraud. I can’t write! What was I thinking to claim that I could… (Yes, I am one of those writers too!). Surely I can fix this?

Time for those layers then:

“I need to talk to you.” Jack stood stiffly at the doorway, unsure of whether or not he should enter or not. It was his room, after all, but while she had laid siege to it felt wrong to barge in. There was already the air of the feminine about it. She had made the bed differently. The pillows were plumped and stood on their sides; the bedcovers draped in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. He watched her carefully pop the pins back into his mother’s old pincushion and then sit up on her heels.

“Talk away. I am all ears.”

She wasn’t. She was all hair and legs and curvy bits, but that was not what he needed to discuss. The bed suddenly loomed larger in the room.

“I am afraid your Mr Layton has upped the reward for your safe return.”

Jack saw a flash of panic cross her face and realised she assumed that meant he had surrendered her for the money. As if he were such a low, immoral creature who would do such a thing. “I do not need Mr Layton’s five hundred pounds Letty.” The numerous, urgent things he could do with five hundred pounds did not bear thinking about. “I prefer to earn my money through honest labours. I thank-you for your lowly opinion though.” His father would have pocketed the money without a moment’s hesitation. As would all of his other dead ancestors. Why couldn’t she see that he was different?

I am not sure if I have finished tinkering with it yet, but I like where it’s going. There are layers now, like an onion, which say far more about the characters than the dialogue ever could. There might not be 90% non-verbal communication, but even my daughter would have to concede I might have captured some of ‘the feels’.

What’s your method of capturing ‘the feels’ for your characters?



That Despicable Rogue

That Despicable Rogue

That Despicable Rogue – [Harlequin Historical May 2016]

A lady’s mission of revenge…

Lady Hannah Steers has three reasons to loathe and despise Ross Jameson. He’s a scandalous libertine, he stole her home and he was responsible for the death of her brother!

Determined to expose Ross for the rogue he is, Hannah dons a disguise and infiltrates his home as his new housekeeper. Unfortunately, this scoundrel proves himself to be the epitome of temptation and, instead of building a case against him, Hannah finds herself in a position she never expected…falling head over heels in love with him!


Bio: I live on the outskirts of London with my understanding husband and two, less understanding, teenagers. After spending years teaching history, I decided to follow my dream of writing for Harlequin.

Now I spend my days happily writing regency romances, creating heroes that I fall in love with and heroines who inspire me. When I’m not doing that, I like to travel to far off places, shop for things that I do not need or read romances written by other people.

To learn more about Virginia, visit her website or connect with her via Facebook and Twitter.

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6 Responses to “Erratic Breathing and the Steely Glare by Virginia Heath”

  1. I really appreciate that you demonstrated your process with examples. This gives me a good step-by-step path to how you enriched the scene. You’ve hooked me! I love how alive this scene became with the addition of a deeper POV. It reminded me of taking a flat, black and white picture and making it a full color movie.
    Thanks again!

    Posted by Sherry Weddle | April 8, 2016, 7:33 am
  2. Great examples! To me this is also great deep POV. You’re describing surroundings in a way that matters to the character. Thanks for sharing your process here.

    Posted by Heatherly Bell | April 8, 2016, 12:26 pm
  3. Hi Virginia,

    Your post made me think of the scene in P&P when Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth Bennet. Despite professing his feelings for her, he’s sending a mixed message when he speaks his mind about her family. I’ve seen the series many times and I still think his nerves got the better of him and his mouth runneth over. His body language, pacing the room, sitting down and then abruptly standing up, reflects his anxiety. The fact that Elizabeth remains composed makes the situation even more nerve wracking for him. The directness of Elizabeth’s gaze when she gives him a much deserved dressing down is telling, too.

    Thanks for joining us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | April 8, 2016, 11:38 pm

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