We’re Borgen slaves in our house, gone into mourning now that the second series has finished. How I’ll make it through the year without my weekly dip into the lives of Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and her soulful, straying husband Philip Christensen (Mikael Birkkjær), I just don’t know.
For the unconverted amongst you, the series is in Danish with English subtitles, so imagine my surprise when my husband asked me to turn it up because he couldn’t hear! But when I thought about it for a moment, I completely got what he meant. Even though we could understand what the actors were saying because it was helpfully written on the screen for us to see, hearing their voices, with all the subtle inflections of emotion and restraint, was absolutely key in responding to their performances. In other words, how they were speaking was as important, if not more, as what they were communicating.
There’s a creative writing lesson here – no way! – and it’s about dialogue and context. When your characters are in conversation it isn’t enough to show them exchanging lines with each other. You need to provide enough additional information for your reader to be able to interpret all the nuances of what they are expressing. They need to understand not just what they are saying, but what they are not saying, what they’ve regretted saying, what they really mean. You need to indicate whether their words are shot through with irony or humour or spite, whether sincerity is real or faked. There is a mass of spin that you as a writer can apply to ordinary speech, which is why dialogue alone is not enough – unless you have actors like Sidse Babett Knudsen and Mikael Birkkjær to do the extra work for you. So when your characters begin to speak, fill in the spaces between their words to make our reading richer.