4. Use the Environment: Completely acceptable, and readers even like it.
"Do you love me?" Emily said.
Tom stared at the patterns on the rain-streaked window. The room was cold away from the dying fire.
"We have to talk," he said.
Readers are smart cookies. They're easily capable of making that jump between the rainy day, the cold room, and Tom's feelings for Emily. No stick-beating required. And if you can do three or four hundred pages of this with nothing really happening, literary prizes and fellowships may fall at your feet!
5. Striptease: Ever ask a question and get a question for an answer? Were you ever have so much at stake about an answer that you couldn't bring yourself to ask the question outright?
Revealing our feelings is often a gradual, I'll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours striptease. There's no reason for your characters not to do the same.
"It's been awhile," Emily said.
The waiter set their coffees in front of them. The cups were tiny, the porcelain almost unbearably fragile.
"Not that long." Tom sipped at his coffee and made a face. Emily stirred hers without drinking.
"You look good."
"So do you."
"You ever, you know, think about it?"
"Sometimes." Tom drained the rest of his coffee. The taste was black and bitter.
"Yeah, me too. Sometimes." Emily stood up, her untouched coffee splashing on the table. "Well, it's been nice, but I've got to run. Things to do, you know..."
In good fiction, as in real life, wearing our emotions openly is an invitation to get them stepped on. And yeah, I used a little cheat: Tom 'made a face', but it's a small cheat, and their exchange holds up without it. In fact, you may notice that the coffee is mostly there for 'stage business'-- it helps me control the beats and pauses in this uncomfortable conversation. But the 'stage business' does some extra work, too. The fragile cups, Tom's black and bitter coffee, Emily's refusal to drink, all have a little something to say about their relationship.
6. Deny, Deny, Deny: Rare air up here. This can be unbelievably effective, or it can fall on its ass. And it all depends on your reader, how much attention they're paying and what kind of sophistication they're bringing to your work.
You've got these POWERFUL emotions running, but you leave them completely under the surface. It's up to the reader to winnow them out. Think of the movie Goodfellahs, where Robert DeNiro waits until a fellow hood leaves, then asks the guy next to him, "You think he talks to his wife?" Without another word, nobody's a bit surprised when the guy and his wife show up dead.
Tom and Emily lay together. The tangled sheets smelled sour, and cold shadows from the rain-streaked window crawled across their bare skin.
Emily stroked Tom's hair. He stood up and began to dress. She bit her lip and said nothing.
Notice I fell back on my #4 crutch there, the sheets and their skin. Nobody says you can't, and I rather like that image, but the point is, I could take it right out of there and still be left with a sparse, bare, lean passage that works.
At least, it works *if* you get Emily's touching Tom's hair as tenderness, and Tom's standing up and hiding under clothes as denial of that bond. Hemingway used this technique powerfully. Or if you didn't get it, it was a man and a woman on a stalled train, and nothing really happened...
So, to recap, Steve's Heirarchy of Sloth:
1. I'm Telling
2. The Swiftie
3. Smile, Sigh, Frown
4. Use the Environment
6. Deny, Deny, Deny
And just to be honest, I have bad-writing days, same as anyone. But you'd better believe that every time I catch a character smiling, sighing, frowning, putting hands on hips or, God forbid, saying something menacingly, I go in there with red-hot tongs. Some smiles, etc. *do* have good reason to remain, but very few survive my trial by fire.