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Veiled threats are hard to write.  Largely because of their very nature.  Most people don’t even notice them in real life unless they are spelled out after.  Nature of the beast really.

Let me give you an example.  For this conversation we will use two generic people.  We will call them Fred and George.  I’ll go through the conversation twice.  Once to show you what it looks like from the outside and once to peel back the veil and explain the threats.

The scene goes like this:  Two men, Fred and George, meet at a neutral location.  Let’s call it a Farmer’s market.  The conversation goes as follows:

Fred and George, by happenstance, are at the local farmer’s market at the same moment.  They turn a corner and quite by accident bump into each other.  Fred gives a half smile and extends a hand.  “Sorry there, George.  Didn’t see you.”

George smiles and takes the offered hand.  “No harm done.” A pause, and then “Say, I like that new car of yours.  Looks really nice.”

“Thanks,” says Fred.  “I really like it.”

“You should.  If you take good care of it a car like that will last a while.”

Fred smiles. “Speaking of such things.  How’s that new house of yours?  I heard the electrical was a problem.”

“Oh its great.  Got a great deal because it needs some work, but I can handle all that.”

“Oh good,” Fred says. “Well, Im going to o keep shopping.  Have a good day.”

“You too.”  They move off.

On the surface it looks like a perfectly ordinary conversation.  Basic small talk.  But if you re-examine the conversation with the knowledge that Fred and George seriously, if not violently, dislike each other.  Things change.  Lets try it again and I’ll explain.

Fred and George, by happenstance, are at the local farmer’s market at the same moment.  They turn a corner and quite by accident bump into each other.  Fred grimaces in disgust, quickly disguising the expresion as a half smile and extending his hand to cover the pause. “Sorry there George.  Didn’t see you.” <And didnt want to>

George smiles and takes the offered hand.  “No harm done.” <Pause before beginning first salvo>  “Say, I like that new car of yours.  Looks really nice.”  <I know what you drive.>

“Thanks,” says Fred.  “I really like it.”

“You should.  If you take good care of it a car like that will last a while.” <Something bad might happen to it if you’re not careful.>

Fred smiles. <Ready to return fire> “Speaking of such things.  How’s that new house of yours?  I heard the electrical was a problem.” <I know where you live and if you mess with my car I will burn your house down.>

“Oh its great.  Got a great deal because it needs some work, but I can handle all that.” <You just try it>

“Oh good.” Fred says. “Well, Im going to keep shopping.  Have a good day.”  <Im done talking to you.>

“You too.”  They move off. <Fine>

See, most of these threats are so subtle that no one not intimately familiar with the situation would notice.  So how do we write that?

Mostly, we don’t.  Veiled threats are kept that subtle for a reason.  We don’t want other people to know that we dislike them that much and, in some cases, we don’t even want ourselves to know.  So in reality we keep it much, much simpler.  We don’t hide the threat we make it a blatantly obvious implication like:

“Nice Car.  It would be too bad if someone smashed your windshield.  But I hear that happens to people who park in other people’s parking spots.”

It’s not subtle at all.  It’s a blatant offering of revenge.  But, it’s not actually a direct threat.  A direct threat would be:

“I will burn your house down if you mess with my car.”

That’s the kind of statement that gets recorded and later used against you in court.

If you really want or need to use more veiled, more subtle, threats in your writing, then I suggest you take one of two paths.  Either you leave them veiled and just let the reader interpret.  This approach really can work.  Never underestimate the intelligence of your readers.  Or you leave the conversation completely veiled and later have one of the participants explain it to a third party.

The best thing to do is have fun with it.  If you have fun, there’s a better chance your readers will to.

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