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I’ve been enjoying exploring the nuances of story telling, ideas that build on fundamental concepts such as story structure, word and punctuation usage, and writing discipline.
Over at Tribal Writer, novelist Justine Musk has offers two great posts (among many, really) on microtension and theme. Both posts underscored my goal for creating stories that resonate. To write fiction that leaves an impression, the writer must rely on meticulous revision to bring out conflict and theme that already exists under the surface. This excerpt from Justine’s post on theme captures the crux:
Thing is, you want to write something that’s fun and compelling, sure, but also layered in a way that resonates. You have something to say, dammit, even though you’re not really sure what that is.
It’s the laying down of those layers that takes time and diligence and perseverance. It’s what separates those who try from those who do. It’s part of the never ending learning process that accompanies writing. And it’s fun.
Charles Baxter, in the introduction to his book The Art of Subtext, he says:
In fiction, the half-visible and the unspoken–all those subtextual matters–are evoked when the action and dialogue of the scene angle downward, when by their multiplicity they imply as much as they show. A slippery surface causes you to skid into the subtext.
That sounds awesome! But it also sounds hard. How do you learn it? I’m banking on lots of reading, lots of writing and even more revision.
All the good stuff is below the surface just like this subterranean city scape.
I’m beginning to see results in my own work. I just finished up a short story that, as I read through it, had all these pieces that fit together better than anything I’ve written to date. I unconsciously created many of these pieces. They showed up raw in that first draft, but they were there. During revisions, I worked to tighten them up and tease them out more.
It’s still exciting to me now, just remembering that revelation. I didn’t set out to make that happen, but by writing almost every day and reading amazing authors and studying the craft, subtext and theme are beginning to bubble up. How cool is that?
One last thought: I’m borrowing a friend’s copy of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun series (see sidebar for link). My friend, Nathan, said to me that he first started reading it and felt like he was presented with all these disparate scenes that seemed adrift. As he read on, Wolfe wove those loose ends back into the story, giving resonance to those seemingly superfluous scenes.
That alone made me want to read it.
What do you enjoy most about the more nuanced aspects of writing? If you have any anecdotes of those “a-ha!” moments, please feel free to share.