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Writing Between the Lines: Gesture, Dialogue and Subtext

April 23, 2015
Old Man Hands_1

Bento Da Silva

This week in class I reprised my gesture and dialogue exercise from last year. We talked about subtext – how people rarely say exactly what’s on their minds, and how much information can be communicated through characters’ words and actions without their ever explicitly stating it.

My two lines were: 

He glanced over his shoulder.


“Can we go back and start over?” 


He glanced over his shoulder. “Can we go back again and start over?”

“Are you serious?” Tanya pushed her shovel into the soil and stood up, grunting with the effort.

“They’re not straight,” said Colin.

They both turned around and regarded the rows of newly-planted seedlings.

“They look all right to me,” Tanya said.

Colin reached into his pocket, took out a packet of pre-moistened towlettes and began methodically wiping his hands.  Tanya took a deep breath, silently counting backwards from five to zero. Then she tried again. “I don’t think it would be good for the plants to uproot them again right away. They have enough space to grow, that’s the main thing.”

Her brother didn’t reply. His hand movements grew more frenetic, scrubbing at non-existent dirt, digging under his fingernails with a corner of the tissue. Tanya reached over and gripped his wrist; he flinched.

“You’ve come so far,” she said gently. “It would be a pity to undo all your hard work.”

She watched his face contort with conflicting forces. After a moment he let out a sigh, smiled ruefully and handed her the limp towelette.

Tanya relaxed her hold on his arm. “Let’s go inside and have a cup of tea, eh?”

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