“You’re really good at authentic dialogue.”
I don’t remember who said it, but I remember thanking her and going back to look at my work. I agreed. Most of it was rather realistic. But I noticed something. Most of my scenes were very dialogue-driven. And that got me thinking… What would happen if people didn’t converse as much in a book? Could I show through fewer words, actions, and subtext what people thought and felt?
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So, I began Speak Now as an exercise for myself–a way to force me to write a less dialogue-driven story. The “what if” question was,
How would a couple ever get to know each other if they didn’t spend the normal amount of time talking.”
I exaggerated the “men don’t communicate” stereotype to an enormous degree and went with it. One thing that became very important to me right away was that he not be “shy.” That would be too easy.
Obviously, I learned a lot from Cara and Jonathan, but Verna, and to a lesser extent Lily, taught me important lessons, too.
First up, Cara
Setting up this book took a little work. I had Cara who was only five years out of college. I didn’t want to create a “Cinderella” effect where the rich man sweeps the struggling woman off her feet. I really strive to keep my characters as “average” as possible. That’s not quite as easy as you’d think sometimes.
I have many characters that are average Joes (more are than are not), and those I’ve given wealth to for various reasons. In order to have Jonathan’s quirk of collecting jewelry as investments, he needed to have wealth.
So, I put Cara in the unusual position of a job that most would take 10-15 years at least to secure. That let her be set up in a furnished townhome only five years outside of college. Obviously not normal, but it did take away a bit of the “rich rescuer” feel from the book.
From Cara, I learned how to accept people where they are. She doesn’t try to fit them in a box, doesn’t try to bring them out of their boxes. She just accepts them as they are and where they are. (I think I said that already… lol).
Her acceptance of Jonathan’s personality quirk (the distaste for conversation) inspires me. Could I do that? I doubt it. She also accepts who he is as a widower with two children. She doesn’t try to replace or eliminate Lily from his or the children’s lives. She embraces that Lily helped shape them as people and respects that. She’s not perfect. I like that too, but I learned more from her virtues than I did from her faults in this book.
Then came Jonathan
From Jonathan, I learned how to accept what others do for you. I learned how to reciprocate, but not to try to “repay.” I also learned to see people through others’ eyes. Would Jonathan have ever noticed Cara had his daughter not been so enthralled? I don’t think so. Not where he was at that time. He was still grieving for Lily.
I also learned that even when it seems like you’ve grasped temptation and given in, you can turn away at any moment. I learned that protecting others is more important than gratifying self (something I knew, but it definitely reinforced it in a new way for me). However, the way he fled further temptation–physically left the source–probably spoke to me the most.
How often do we think we can “handle it” and stay when we really should flee whatever tempts us. He “pulled a Joseph,” so to speak.
She caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house” (Gen. 39:12)
One I grew to love most is Verna.
I admire Verna’s devotion to her second family–the way she mothers everyone in the Lyman household. Even the simple admonishment to be sure that Cara knows the ring isn’t an investment is genius. Someone like Cara would need to know that something that symbolic isn’t just part of a retirement portfolio. For that matter, most of us would.
Some didn’t understand why I gave Lily the intimacy issues I did. I know some thought it was a way to put Lily down and elevate Cara. That was not my intention. I chose to do that to show just how deeply Jonathan loved his wife. Even with these issues in his marriage, even with the deep attraction between him and Cara, he still grieved for and loved his first wife. Verna wisely told him to tell her that this past problem could affect their future. She caught that potential problem before meeting Cara.
And of course, Lily
Lily’s love and care for her husband and children inspire me. She prepared them for a life with someone else even before she died. What do I need to prepare my family for in the event of my death? If there’s anything I learned in 2012, it is that life is shorter and more limited than it often seems.
This book revolves around the theme of attraction and dealing with that attraction in an appropriate manner. I made a deliberate attempt to keep it from being “realistic.” It’s fiction. If I wrote “reality,” it’d likely be pretty boring. I know most people cannot have wordless conversations such as Cara and Jonathan did–especially not in the beginning of a relationship. But, I exaggerated reality in order to set up their attraction. When you don’t have words to help drown out the pull of attraction, you have to deal with the actual attraction.
How did readers respond?
Before I ever published this book, I sent it, chapter by chapter, to a friend. In fact, I dedicated the book to Michele. In her words in her Amazon review (which obviously is highly biased), she said,
I agree with the other reviewers, they don’t talk much, that’s part of the point. Their chemistry together wasn’t just the physical ‘wanna jump his/her bones’ chemistry…they were so at ease and comfortable with each other, they could read each other, even when they weren’t talking. They were what I’ve always envisioned as soul-mates. ~ Michele “WV Mommy”
A few other reviews caught my eye as well.
Rather than a good vs. evil theme, Speak Now explores right vs. wrong in a situation where emotions are trying to take the lead. Jonathan struggles to balance his roles of father and businessman with his conflicting emotions of grief for the wife who died too young and love for the very different woman who would take her place. Cara is a very confident young woman who struggles with body image, yet is very secure in the other areas of her life. Both are very caring and considerate characters, thinking of the needs of others and responding to them.
The underlying lesson woven through the story was the realization that we do need to be careful of the dreams and longings we allow into our hearts. “…we don’t have to let our mind stay where it tries to go. We can close that gate and send it down a different path.” ~Colleen in ND
I came away from this book feeling like I could do so much more in my marital relationship to better connect with my husband. I admired the author for bringing out danger zones that occur in pre-marital relationships, the struggles, the temptations, desires, weaknesses, and how it is difficult to make the right choices. ~ M.A. Pyles “brealimom”
And critical reviews had important things to say as well. This one is particularly helpful.
Another problem for me was the supposed chemistry they had. I just didn’t feel it. I guess in literary terms it is the difference between being shown something and being told something. I just finished another book that gave me butterflies every time the characters were in the same room. Jonathan and Cara just didn’t do that for me. I was told about their chemistry, but I wasn’t shown their chemistry. ~ Teacher with an opinion in VA
I have a very hard time writing the kind of chemistry that some readers want. I find that to get it sufficiently “chemical,” for some people, I feel like I’ve crossed into emotional pornography. It’s my personal problem–I have it with reading other authors as well. What many readers find to be perfectly normal and acceptable in the chemistry department feels much too personal and intimate to me, regardless of who wrote the book. So, until I get past that or learn to write in a way that satisfies others and my conscience both, I will disappoint some readers in that aspect. For that, I am sorry.
Speak Now stretched me as an author. Additionally, the Lord taught me how important it is to remain strong in the face of temptation– not just sexual temptation. Any. Temptation to shirk duty. Temptation to indulge in too much of anything that is inappropriate at that point–this book reminded me of how important it is to remain strong in the face of any temptation.