Using Lens in Your Writing

“So what sounds good to you?”

“Truthfully?”

“No, please lie.”

“All right, here goes… you spread on the kitchen table with my face between your thighs.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

Straight dialogue. That’s where most of my chapters begin. It’s all about the conversation, the connection or division between two or more humans, and how they react to the exchange. As a writer, it’s my job to articulate the context, specifics and nuance of the exchange in order to pull my audience into the moment. To invest the reader in what’s at stake.

Currently, it’s very vanilla. It could be dropped seamlessly into any number of scenarios:

  • A man seducing a woman at a party
  • A wife challenging a husband who has a one track mind to level up
  • A woman seducing a woman at a party
  • A lecherous senator subtly coercing an intern into sexual favors
  • A marriage on the verge of collapse

Let’s use an interesting tactic to really punch the emotion of the piece home. Lens.

If we zoom out and watch the scene from across the room, we become voyeurs. Description of body language, furniture, and lighting can all be used effectively to establish mood and relay information about the couple. This camera is well suited to an opening scene with new characters and setting.

We can use it throughout the story as well, though again as spectators. We’re watching the story happen, and focus is on strong characterization, action or plot development. Here, the lens becomes moot, which is a good thing, since it’s a device we don’t want to overuse anyway. After all, if the entire story were told at a distance it would lose its personal impact, or if in macro, the reader would never see the forest for the trees.

Another lens is birds eye. can zoom out further still, and overhear the conversation through a roof without ever meeting the couple. Another, wider establishing shot, in which the characters are not the focus, so much the scene itself.

But what if it’s an intense moment in our story with well-established characters? Let’s really zoom in, use a macro lens.

Here’s how it might work.

“So what sounds good to you?” she asked, thin lips rigid, the wooden mouth of a wooden puppet, invoking toneless sounds.

The camera is fixed on her mouth. Note the hard words: rigid, wooden. No blasé adjectives like sarcastically or angrily, as we don’t want to be trite. No, we’re going to make her voice thin, toneless, as though she were only present out of habit, not a desire to be present. She’s merely invoking sounds; her question is insincere, as she clearly doesn’t expect an acceptable answer.

Studying the careworn edge of the table, etched and dulled from twenty years of service, he shifted in his seat to resettle his crowding jeans, absently scraping his thumbnail on the seam of his thigh.

“Truthfully?”

His body language does most of the work here. We don’t have to say “he feels X”, which would be distancing, a stylistic no-no. Color words fill out the rest of the information: careworn, etched, dulled, crowded, scraping. We can assume that if the table is twenty years old, their relationship probably is as well, and thus give a clue to the ages of the characters as well. He’s not looking at her, which suggests tension between them, even though their specific words are still just as neutral. He feels crowded, shifting and fussing with his hands, and is obviously unsettled or uncertain, and whatever he’s thinking, has reason to believe she wouldn’t want to hear it. It would be an unacceptable answer.

This next bit of dialogue is very interesting. “No, please lie.” Is she being outwardly sarcastic? A biting remark, because he lies too often? Or is she being deadpan, truly not wanting to hear the answer? A well-placed and well-selected tag here completely alters tone.

“No,” she spat, “please lie.”

“No, please,” she mumbled. “Lie.”

Personally, I think the second could be a lot more interesting as a writer. So much subtlety can be laced into that scenario regarding her and their relationship, but for sake of brevity, let’s go with the first. I know where I want to go with the rest of the conversation, which is to turn things around for our couple, so I’m going to introduce elements here to being that transition.

“No,” she spat, tight lips turned down in a grim scowl. She folded her arms under her breasts, the searing flame in her silky brown eyes flaring beneath the dagger sweep of her lashes. “Please lie.”

Granted, this might be getting slightly purple —there’s quite a few adjectives here, but for illustrative purposes let’s look past that, shall we?

That said, ouch.

Beyond the obvious, her spitting and scowling and her body language, note that we’re still very much focused on her face. Lips, eyes, lashes. Trick here is that these are also sensual words, no? Here’s where the subtlety of that transition is happening.

Additionally is the quick distraction of her breasts, just a mention, then right back to her face, but enough to bring awareness to them. Breasts do tend to inconvenience themselves in the most inopportune moments don’t they? In this case, they’re actually the fulcrum of the transition. Afterward, the phrasing used could easily be a seduction. Searing flame, silky brown, dagger-swept lashes. The flame, flare and dagger are enough to maintain an edge to the moment, but the gentle insinuation of sexual tension is definitely there.

Now our hero is throwing down his chips. He’s going to try to disarm her vitriol with a hot flirt. Whether or not he succeeds will all be suggested to the reader, but we don’t want to give away the cart with the horse, so we’re only going to suggest a response from her, which is to say setting our reader up for the resolution of this little vignette.

Glancing up from the table, he regarded her with a cool look. If she knew how distracted he was with the generous swell of her propped breasts, she’d probably slap him. Their sensuous curve invited him, the most perfect place in the world to rest his mind. The dark, wiry hair of two days’ stubble on his jaw pricking her tender skin, her warmth seeping into the crest of his cheekbone. He could close his eyes and drift, aloft on her scent, patchouli and Dior J’adore, as she ran soothing nails through his hair. Or he could tug the soft french silk of her bra aside, exposing her rosy nipple to his tongue, wrapping his mouth around the aereola, as much as he could possibly contain, and sink his teeth into her soft flesh. Hot air would pass her lips in a breathy groan, her grip on his hair tightening. She’d pull him to her and suffocate him, and he’d welcome that death, slipping into her gentle blackness.

She glared as he shifted his eyes to hers, and returned it in kind. Boring his thoughts into her. His need, his lust.

“All right, here goes…” he said, the rumble of his own voice pleasing in his throat. “You. Spread on the kitchen table. With my face between your thighs.”

0___0! Hold on, I need a smoke after that one.

This is a long section, so I’m not going to dissect every little word, I’ll leave that to you. Notice the transition, though, the shift from their tension, and the build from hard words to softer. The table, cool look, the slap. But we’re blending as we go; generous swell, sensuous curve, wiry hair and jaw. I’m mixing hard and soft words together in a smooth gradient. By the end of the paragraph, it’s all soft, hot, breathy, embrace.

Except. Just as we shift to his thoughts, it becomes carnal. He glares back at her, but clearly not an angry glare. He’s boring into her. Desire, lust, pleasing. We include other senses here as well: the smell of her perfume, the sound of her groan, and lots of warmth and pink. Gentle blackness as an allegory for the little death, la petite mort, or perhaps another gentle blackness he might slip into.

(And while we’re being didactic, pay attention, gentlemen; and keep in mind it’s not just about the words he says to her, but his thoughts behind them. The words are just the vehicle for the feelings.)

Our poor heroine. How can you hold out when a man delivers a line like that?

She stared hard at him, lip stiff, brown eyes flaring. A long moment passed as she studied him impassively. Then the corner of her mouth twitched, the tiniest little movement betraying the defiance she’d been clinging to, and he knew then it was okay to smile. Leaning in close to his face, until only their breath separated them, she placed her fingertips on his jaw, the heat of that touch both soothing and enflaming.

“You’re ridiculous,” she purred. And then her mouth was on his. Her breath was his.

Once again we return to her face, back where we started, stiff. She can’t just swoon and collapse in his arms, can she? He’s not playing fair, using sex to disarm her, even if he is being completely sincere. She has to make him work, and that’s a great device here to keep the reader in momentary suspense as well. Will she cave? Will she slap him? And then her mouth, which began wooden, twitches with a tiny movement. We’re still zoomed in. The width of a breath, her fingertips, her touch. And our defiant, wonderful heroine retains her agency (also important) by making the move on him.

Once again, I freely admit that our example is somewhat purple. But such is often romance, at least my favorite romance. Hyper-zoomed, tactile.

All together now:

“So what sounds good to you?” she asked, thin lips rigid, the wooden mouth of a wooden puppet, invoking toneless sounds.

Studying the careworn edge of the table, etched and dulled from twenty years of service, he shifted in his seat to resettle his crowding jeans, absently scraping his thumbnail on the seam of his thigh.

“Truthfully?”

“No,” she spat, tight lips turned down in a grim scowl. She folded her arms under her breasts, the searing flame in her silky brown eyes flaring beneath the dagger sweep of her lashes. “Please lie.”

Glancing up from the table, he regarded her with a cool look. If she knew how distracted he was with the generous swell of her propped breasts, she’d probably slap him. Their sensuous curve invited him, the most perfect place in the world to rest his mind. The dark, wiry hair of two days’ stubble on his jaw pricking her tender skin, her warmth seeping into the crest of his cheekbone. He could close his eyes and drift, aloft on her scent, patchouli and Dior J’adore, as she ran soothing nails through his hair. Or he could tug the soft french silk of her bra aside, exposing her rosy nipple to his tongue, wrapping his mouth around the aereola, as much as he could possibly contain, and sink his teeth into her soft flesh. Hot air would pass her lips in a breathy groan, her grip on his hair tightening. She’d pull him to her and suffocate him, and he’d welcome that death, slipping into her gentle blackness.

She glared as he shifted his eyes to hers, and returned it in kind. Boring his thoughts into her. His need, his lust.

“All right, here goes…” he said, the rumble of his own voice pleasing in his throat. “You. Spread on the kitchen table. With my face between your thighs.”

She stared hard at him, lip stiff, brown eyes flaring. A long moment passed as she studied him impassively. Then the corner of her mouth twitched, the tiniest little movement betraying the defiance she’d been clinging to, and he knew then it was okay to smile. Leaning in close to his face, until only their breath separated them, she placed her fingertips on his jaw, the heat of that touch both soothing and enflaming.

“You’re ridiculous,” she purred. And then her mouth was on his. Her breath was his.

And there we have it. Nowhere did we say how they felt, what their emotions were. Everything conveyed through body language, imagery, color words, and of course, their dialogue.

As for our couple, they may have some work to do yet (don’t we all?), but I get the feeling there’s a HEA brewing here.

Cheers

One thought on “Using Lens in Your Writing

  1. Printing out this instant. Truly helpful.

    One edit, perhaps, regarding paragraph beginning with “Personally.” In the last sentence, did you intend to use “being”? Or did you mean “bring”?

    Anyway, bravo, you. More, please.

    Like

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