Sunday, July 3, 2011

When You Say Nothing At All

Image from Dear Frankie, copyright 2004 Miramax Films

A couple of weeks ago, over at All About Romance, Leigh put up a post on The Art of Writing Believable Men that I found really interesting, not only because I happen to agree with a lot of her points, but because it set off a discussion of how men can tell you they love you without ever actually saying the words.

When I was interviewed last year at Historical Tapestry and asked about my own heroes, I explained, "I can only draw from men I’ve known in my own life: my grandfathers, my father, and my husband and my friends, all different men, and yet with certain commonalities. If my heroes tend to be quieter men, it’s because the real men I know don’t go emoting all over the place – as a rule, they don’t talk much at all (though to be fair, I talk so much myself it may just be that they can’t get a word in edgewise)."

I know there are probably all sorts of men out there who have no problem at all in expressing their feelings or saying "I love you", but in my experience men tend to do things, not say them. It's always a challenge for me as a writer to work in those small, quiet gestures that show what the hero is feeling, or wanting to say. Each hero is different, and how he expresses his feelings in action is different, as well.

Again in my experience, the simplest, smallest thing can show the deepest level of emotion. If my husband brought me flowers, I would be suspicious. But sometimes when we're sitting at the table after dinner and he nudges his sudoku puzzle closer to me so that I can help complete it, then I know he loves me.

That's likely why I love the above-named song so much (here's a link to the Alison Krauss version, played over scenes from the movie Dear Frankie, which is in itself a small masterpiece of how to speak without speaking).

Are your heroes, real-life or otherwise, able to say what they feel? If not, what do they do that translates to "I Love You?"

Be sure to come back to read Julie's post Thursday.


  1. Really good points, Susanna. In my three relationships, I've had men from each end of the spectrum, and one right in the middle. My current, and longest, has also been the quietest, almost never expressing his feelings verbally. The guy prior to him was the complete opposite, very free with his words, and it really took some adjusting to get used to the idea of understanding how my current guy feels from what he does rather than what he says. I can definitely relate to the flowers drawing suspicion; but when he picks up an interesting dead beetle he found while walking the dogs and brings it back for me (he knows I'm a huge nature-nut), that's when I know he loves me.

    I like sensitive men when I'm reading romances, but I want them to be believably so. Sappy heroes just make me roll my eyes.

  2. I'm afraid I'm rather mean to my heroes and I do make them say those three words! You're right that they could just show the heroine in other ways, Susanna, but I think saying it out loud helps them to admit it to themselves as well.

    Interesting dead beetle, Seabrooke? Eeeek ... I'd run away screaming thinking the guy hated me since I can't stand creepy-crawlies :) Now a cute (live) frog or something, that would be more my thing. But it's great that he knows what you like, sounds perfect!

  3. I love the Ronan Keating version of this song which is used during the movie Notting Hill.

    And actions do speak louder than words so often!

  4. Seabrooke, I'm not sure how I'd respond to the dead beetle, either :-) But yes, it's exactly that sort of a gesture that men do.

    Christina, I don't always have my men say those three words, but they sometimes say other words that mean the same thing. I'll have to go back through my books now, and see just how often they DO say 'I love you' (and how often they just bring beetles...)

    Marg, I love that version, too (and the film), but in this case the images from Dear Frankie just seemed to fit what I was trying to say.