Sometimes the tiny revisions help more than you think.
I was revising a cozy scene, and I removed several instances of the man’s name and replaced it with “he” or “him”. I don’t know when I first started doing this, but I have found that a scene is more intimate if you refrain from using names. As long as there are only two people, you only need use each name once, at the beginning of the scene.
Think about it–in real life, how often do you actually say the name of your spouse, sibling, or good friend? Maybe to get their attention, but while in conversation? And you don’t think of them by their names, either. You are beyond names.
I really noticed this kind of thing when I did some contest judging a few months ago. Several intimate scenes were ruined when the hero and heroine said or thought the other’s name too often.
And the opposite holds true as well. To create a sense of estrangement, use names. As soon as you bring in a third person, you have to use names, anyway.
Here’s the intimate scene, between brother and sister:
Adele watched as he stared at her. She refrained from shaking her head. Mike had a way of walking about in a haze of his own making. She reached over, clasped his hand and pulled him onto the couch next to her.
“Talk to me,” she said.
He didn’t say anything. She thought about leaving him alone, but he was always pretty good about letting her know when he needed his space. He wanted her there. She waited.
At length, he tried to speak, but only ended up clearing his throat awkwardly. She rose, went into the kitchen and brought back a glass of water. She handed it to him, and sat down again as he drank.
“First off, I gotta tell you that there’s a few things you don’t know. Things that happened between Mrs. Watkins and me.”
She frowned in outrage. “What! She’s your employee! She—”
“For God’s sake—that’s not it, either. Christ! What must you think of me?”
“Well, look at the way you made it sound!”
“Well hold on and just listen for a moment.”
And between a nosy boss and his subordinate:
Briggs escorted Peterson in twenty minutes later. He looked nervous. “Good evening, sir,” Peterson said.
“Good evening, Peterson.” Haley said as he lit a cigarette. He didn’t offer one. Briggs took his post by the door. Peterson looked at him nervously. Haley said, “Your first name is Bradley, right?”
“Uh, yeah. Brad is fine.”
“Of course it is. So how goes things with Eliza?”
“Um, just fine. Sir.”
“Do you like her?”
“Sure. What’s not to like?”
“I can think of many things.”
“Huh?” he gulped. “Sir?”
“You seem to have a problem with that, don’t you?”
“With basic courtesy. Calling your superior ‘sir’ for instance.”
Peterson looked pained. “I’m sorry about that, sir. I’m still getting used to it.”
“Were your parents deadbeats?”
“Well … yes sir. Pretty much.”
Any intimacy was gone anyway because Briggs was present, but I did use names a little more often than strictly necessary.
This is just one of the tiny changes I keep in mind as I revise. What did you think? Did I succeed in creating a sense of intimacy, and a sense of estrangement?