Monday, September 17, 2007

Preferred Seating

1. It used to be characters but then it became voice, but now it has become subtext--what people say as opposed to what they really mean.

2. Voice, their attitude, comes next. This colors the entire narrative. Until you know how they sound, you don't have a strong enough sense of who they are, and through no fault of their own, they may fall flat on their plinth.

3. What used to be number one has become number three. Now comes character.

Now that you know who they are and how they sound, you can plan what they say. Dialogue is thus number four.

5. No question about it, scene is next; the landscape has to reflect something, perhaps from their anticipations, perhaps from your own sense of not wanting them to think they're off on some goddamned vacation.

6. Conflict has to be in there because if there isn't any, there is no story. You see people who go around agreeing all the time, you begin thinking something is wrong, unless of course you discover that they think they're agreeing but aren't.

7. Surprise. Or maybe I should say surprise! Nothing like an unanticipated turn of event to get you feeling humble. Even though you know them--you created them, right?--they should have minds and hearts of their own.

8. Reversal is next. Just when everything is looking hopeful, something comes along and repossesses the rug. Right out from under them.

9. Moral choice. They either think they have to make one or think they are exempt from having to make one.

10. Change or understanding that could lead to change. Look at Huck Finn. Look at Pip. Man, they went after change as though it were the first day of sales for the iPhone. On the other hand, look at Mr. Stevens in The Remains of the Day. He never got it. Naive narrator to the end.


John Eaton said...

You gift us with a master class in every post, Shelly.

Trust the writer, huh.

John :)

x said...

This is a great summary of it all!

Anonymous said...

I've noticed, lately, that a lot of the professors with whom I've studied in my creative writing program dote on subtext. And in widely disparate media: screenplays, non-fiction, and fiction (as if there is difference between those latter two).

My priority seating goes first to my readers, whom I hope to entertain, before I go to having my own fun, which usually consists of blowing a great amount of shit up.

Nearly two years in, I'm still not precisely certain what subtext is (every writer seems to have his or her own idea), but I'm pretty sure it's inflammable, and I'm happy to be the writer to test the theory.

~Will Entrekin