I love dialogue. It’s the best way to salt all those pesky details of the backstory into your work in progress. My writing is dialogue heavy, but there are times when a character’s body language can say as much as words. Is your hero standing, slouching, getting ready to take on dragons with his muscles bunched, his teeth bared? The reader knows the minute a main character tenses, things are going downhill, fast.
So, how would a woman in the eighteenth or nineteenth century express herself through a few slight movements of her hands? The smart phone was a long way off and she couldn’t stroke a few keys to set up a booty call. Her life was spent walking the fine line of society’s mores. The strictures placed upon her made it difficult to communicate with a man who caught her eye. The clever woman of the time devised ways of getting the message across to the man she fancied, or to reject someone. I like to think of it as the eighteenth and nineteenth century version of texting.
Here’s a scenario to illustrate what I mean.
Our heroine sits on a small damask covered chair waiting for the hero to walk through the door of the assembly hall. The music swells into a waltz. She reaches for her fan in anticipation of seeing the man who has haunted her dreams for the last few weeks. He makes his appearance and she raises her fan. He asks her for a dance. What does she do? Or maybe it’s the villain of the story who wants her for her inheritance.
Let the games begin.
THE FAN PLACED NEAR THE HEART: “You have won my love.”
THE FAN RESTING ON HER HEART: “My love for you is breaking my heart.”
A CLOSED FAN: “When may I be allowed to see you?”
THE NUMBER OF STICKS SHOWN ANSWERS THE QUESTION: “At what hour?”
THREATENING MOVEMENTS WITH THE FAN CLOSED: “Do not be imprudent.”
HALF-OPENED FAN PRESSED TO THE LIPS: “You may kiss me.”
FAN WITH THE HANDLE TO LIPS: “Kiss me.”
HANDS CLASPED TOGETHER HOLDING AN OPEN FAN: “Forgive me.”
COVERING THE LEFT EAR WITH AN OPEN FAN: “Do not betray our secret.”
HIDING THE EYES BEHIND AN OPEN FAN: “I love you.”
SHUTTING A FULLY OPENED FAN SLOWLY: “I promise to marry you.”
DRAWING THE FAN ACROSS THE EYES: “I am sorry.”
TOUCHING THE FINGER TO THE TIP OF THE FAN: ”I wish to speak with you.”
LETTING THE FAN REST ON THE RIGHT CHEEK: ”Yes.”
LETTING THE FAN REST ON THE LEFT CHEEK: “No.”
OPENING AND CLOSING THE FAN SEVERAL TIMES: “You are cruel.”
OPENING AND CLOSING THE FAN SEVERAL TIMES, QUICKLY AND INPETUOUSLY: “I’m jealous.”
DROPPING THE FAN: “We are friends, or I belong to you.”
FANNING SLOWLY: “I am married, or don’t waste your time, I don’t care about you.”
FANNING QUICKLY: “I love you so much.”
CARRYING THE FAN CLOSED AND HANGING FROM HER LEFT HAND: “I am engaged.”
CARRYING THE FAN CLOSED AND HANGING FROM HER RIGHT HAND: “I want to be engaged.”
HITTING HER HAND’S PALM: “Love me.”
OPENING THE FAN WIDE: “Wait for me.”
PLACING THE FAN BEHIND THE HEAD OR MOVING HER HAIR AWAY FROM HER FOREHEAD WITH THE FAN: “Do not forget me.”
PLACING THE FAN BEHIND THE HEAD WITH THE FINGERS EXTENDED: “Goodbye.”
FAN IN THE RIGHT HAND IN FRONT OF FACE: “Follow me.”
FAN IN THE LEFT HAND IN FRONT OF FACE: “I’m desirous of your acquaintance.”
FAN HELD OVER THE LEFT EAR: “I want to be rid of you.”
DRAWING THE FAN ACROSS THE FOREHEAD: “You have changed.”
TWIRLING THE FAN IN THE LEFT HAND: “We are being watched.”
TWIRLING THE FAN IN THE RIGHT HAND: “I love another.”
CARRYING THE OPEN FAN IN THE RIGHT HAND: “You are too willing.”
CARRYING THE OPEN FAN IN THE LEFT HAND: “Come and talk to me.”
DRAWING THE FAN THROUGH THE HANDS: “I hate you.”
DRAWING THE FAN ACRSS THE CHEEK: “I love you.”
PRESENTING THE FAN SHUT: “Do you love me?”
CLOSING THE FAN: “I wish to speak with you.”
All the heroine needs is a wave or snap of a fan to tell either man her true feelings.
Here’s another scenario, using a different fashion accessory—the ever-present gloves. They were used to send coded messages to the men who flocked around her. When fans weren’t practical, our heroine has to make do with another type of code to express her true feelings.
Our heroine wears a pair of gloves to the ball, or she might be riding in Hyde Park, Rotten Row, the 18th century meeting place popular with the upper-class Londoners. Everyone makes an appearance during the weekend evenings, and at midday, either on horseback or in carriages. Intrigue and romance abounds. A handsome man asks to call the next day. What’s our heroine’s answer? Does she tell the hero what’s in her heart? Dash the hopes of the fortune hunter?
Here are a variety of ways our heroine might use the gloves to answer the men’s queries.
BITING THE TIPS: "I wish to be rid of you very soon!"
CLENCHING THEM, ROLLED UP IN THE RIGHT HAND: "No!"
DRAWING HALFWAY UP LEFT HAND: "Indifference"
DROPPING BOTH OF THEM: "I love you"
DROPPING ONE OF THEM: "Yes"
FOLDING UP CAREFULLY : "Get rid of your company"
HOLDING THE TIPS DOWNWARD: "I wish to be acquainted"
HOLDING THEM LOOSE IN THE RIGHT HAND: "I am content"
HOLDING THEM LOOSE IN THE LEFT HAND: "I am satisfied"
LEFT HAND WITH THE NAKED THUMB EXPOSED: "Do you love me?"
PUTTING THEM AWAY: "I am vexed!"
RIGHT HAND WITH THE NAKED THUMB EXPOSED: "Kiss me"
SMOOTHING THEM OUT GENTLY: "I am displeased"
STRIKING THEM OVER THE SHOULDER: "Follow me"
TAPPING THE CHIN: "I love another"
TOSSING THEM UP GENTLY: "I am engaged"
TURNING THEM INSIDE OUT: "I hate you!"
TWISTING THEM AROUND THE FINGERS: "Be careful, we are watched!"
USING THEM AS A FAN: "Introduce me to your company".
I love these fun facts, although a question has occurred to me. If everyone knew these maneuvers with either the fan or gloves, nothing was really a secret.
So, think about the implications of the heroine dropping a pair of gloves, or furiously fanning her face after a country dance. She might land in a lot of hot water. The possibilities to add a touch of humor or the horror of a social faux pas in the ballroom are limitless. Here’s one of my favorite examples. Have fun.
And check out these other fascinating websites:
With the maiden name of Love, how could I not write romance?
I live in western Missouri with my husband and our cat Spook, who thinks he actually owns the house. We're just the servants who came with the property. I'm a former chef, and my hobbies include sewing, belly dancing, acting, and playing video games with a vengeance.
I am a member of Romance Writers of America and my local chapter, Heartland Romance Authors.
Alex King wants to follow the family tradition and marry his perfect wife on Christmas Eve. There’s one little hitch—his bride dumps him at the altar. He wakes up in Vegas with a hangover, a ring on his finger, and in bed with Zoe Hillman, his best friend. She’s overweight and plain, nothing at all like his image of the perfect wife. So begins the shortest Vegas marriage in history.
Zoe loved Alex from the moment he walked through the law firm’s doors. He can charm the panties off any woman, but he’s never tried it with her. The chance to grab for the gold ring is within her reach until everything blows up in her face. Now, five years later she returns to Kansas City with triplets in tow and a brand new look. Catering Alex’ next wedding should prove interesting.