* * * * *
As soon as they got off the bridge, the wind shifted and SarahBeth said, “Oh, my God, what’s that smell?”
Perry made a face. “It’s even worse than the regular smell.”
Katherine sniffed a couple of times. “Somebody’s burning bodies,” she said.
“Oh, ick,” said SarahBeth.
Perry shrugged. “It’s better than the alternatives.”
* * * * *
Characters reveal a lot about themselves by what they know. That’s why I liked this short scene when I came across it in the re-reading the novel.
And Katherine, who regular readers know is a mass murderer, knows what it smells like when bodies are burned. Exactly why she knows this is not stated, but it’s definitely plausible that she’d know it.
My favorite “who knows what” moment is in the movie Mystery Train. There’s a character named Luisa (played by Nicoletta Braschi). She’s transporting her dead husband’s body back to Italy, and she’s having a layover in Memphis on the way. We see her wandering around, preyed on by various minor cons, and she ends up in the fleabag hotel where most of the movie’s action takes place, sharing a room with another woman who has no money. In the morning, they hear a gunshot from another room in the hotel.
The other woman says something like, “Was that a gunshot?”
Luisa says, “It sounded like a .38.”
It tells us a lot about her that she has an idea about the caliber of the gun just from hearing the sound through the walls of the hotel room.
I was just watching an episode of the old TV show The Prisoner called “Hammer Into Anvil,” and at one point Number Two is threatening (as usual) to break Number Six, and he (Two) says to Six, in German, “You must be hammer or anvil.” Number Six understands the German and recognizes that it’s a quote from Goethe, and the rest of the conversation shows that he understands the real meaning of the quote while Number Two does not (anvils break hammers, not the other way around). We know very little about Number Six, but it is telling that he has all of that information.
You do have to work carefully and keep it plausible, as I talked about here, but it can be a lot better to reveal some character background in this way, rather than by dumping a bunch of exposition into the story.