Master storyteller Robert McKee defined three categories of thoughts and feelings a character experiences:
The said are those ideas and emotions a character chooses to express to others; the unsaid are those thoughts and feelings a character expresses in an inner voice but only to himself; the unsayable are those subconscious urges and desires a character cannot express in words, even to himself, because they are mute and beyond awareness.Robert McKee, Dialogue
I never thought about it with such clarity, but now that I read it, I can’t not see every thought and idea through this lens anymore.
Is this something that’s said? Something that a person either said out loud, or revealed and shared through other means—which don’t necessarily have to be verbal. The said can also be the way a man in smiles at the woman he loves, or the wild gesticulations of a man in the grip of road rage.
Is it something that’s unsaid? The secret doubts about her own self-worth a stunningly beautiful woman hides behind her perfect appearance, or the the schemes working within the mind of a conman.
Is it something that’s unsayable? An unknown fear that’s rooted in an early childhood trauma, which drives a now grown-up man to never fully open up, to always keep his guard up, even amongst friends and loved ones.
We all carry the said, the unsaid, and the unsayable within us, and so do the characters in our stories. Getting to know them will give them—and ourselves—more depth and a more intensely lived life.