People parse words. They choose specific words to gain the reaction they want from those who hear them. They choose specific words to elicit a favorable reaction, to nix a topic being discussed, or to express their own reaction (often emotional, positive or negative) to what is being said or to what they’re saying.
This is why it’s important to develop the art of being a good listener. To home in and focus on what’s really being said—because as often as people say something, they don’t say something. Or they don’t actually say what you think they’re saying.
Since this happens with real people, it happens with characters in books who emulate real people to forge bonds between characters and readers. It’s a means through which they relate and attach.
An example most of us are familiar with would be someone apologizing without actually apologizing. They go through the motions, express appropriate contrition and body language, and they might even say they’re sorry, but they misrepresent the offense, what they’ve done to offend or jeopardize. They give the appearance of regret but divert or minimize their own guilt.
That diversion or misrepresentation of facts might or might not be deliberate. For the purpose of illustration, it doesn’t matter. Either way, the result is parsed words.
That’s one example. There are a million examples because most people parse words at some point or another for a multitude of reasons.
The lesson in this is to reiterate why we must read between the lines, and pay close attention to what others are actually saying. So that we don’t hear what we want to hear and fill in the blank spaces in the way we choose. So that we hear what’s actually said and we’re aware of what is left unsaid. Often the two are poles apart, and assuming or filling in those blanks, can lead us down false paths.
Now we might prefer to go down those paths, to give the benefit of doubt on differences in what’s said and what’s meant to be said, but we should know we’re doing it and go down that path because we make a conscious choice to do it. Not because we haven’t really listened and we don’t know the difference. That’s the path to manipulation and intellectual dishonesty.
This is also a clue to craft character dialogue carefully. Characters can be deliberately vague, deceptive, manipulative, or dishonest when talking. They can, like people, choose their words to craft our response to them. Nudging us to believe what they want us to believe, or to react in a way they want us to react. Those things happen all the time in regular conversations—personal and business.
When someone speaks, it’s our responsibility to listen and to process what is being said. We generally note what is said, the way it’s said—tone and, for example, sarcasm—and place that in context of the person saying it. We generally also note what isn’t being said, and we attribute a motivation for not saying what isn’t said.
Much of conversation is mundane and we process these things on auto-pilot. The more we trust the speaker, the more leeway we give them and the less we interpret their message. We automatically give the trusted speaker the benefit of doubt and take their words at face value.
By the same token, the less we trust the speaker, the more we interpret and process—and the closer we listen.
When something matters to you, or to your character, that character will exercise laser focus. He or she will lean toward the speaker to be sure s/he hears every single word. He or she will hear and listen and process every word, interpret every voice inflection. If parsing is going on, it will be noticed.
If the speaker is distrusted, there’s also a higher risk that straight talk will be interpreted as parsing. That what isn’t said will be deemed deliberate for nefarious purposes. That erroneous motives will be attributed for parsing or what’s left unsaid.
Remember, it isn’t only what’s said. It’s what’s said, how it’s said, when and where it’s said, and who is saying it. All of these things factor into hearing and listening and into processing and interpreting.
And once again, we discover that personal character (the speaker’s and our own) plays an important role in what we hear—and what we don’t.
© 2015, Vicki Hinze. Hinze is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is The Marked Bride, Shadow Watchers, Book 1. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact.www.vickihinze.com. Subscribe to Vicki’s Newsletter.