Monday, July 25, 2011

Dare to Think the Worst

If you're at all serious about your reading and your storytelling, you need to get out of the quick-fix, sound-bite mentality of pop communication, which can easily have lulled you into skimming and skipping.  You need to get into the dramatic dimension of implication.

Whether you're reading someone else's story or writing your own, it's wise to pay as much attention to what goes between the lines as to what is actually said.

This is because most memorable, resonant fiction pays such attention,no matter when it was written.  You can find it in, say, a scene from Jane Austen, as well as locating it in a short story by Deborah Eisenberg.

What, then, is this noteworthy and important "it"? To give it a simple name, call it subtext; to make sure you see it at work in a story, visualize it as downstream consequences.

If the reader misses the implications of these consequences, an entire dimension of the story goes begging--serious but repairable with a second, closer reading.  Were a writer to miss these special consequences, the albatross of editorial rejection is yanked in by the collar.

Read between the lines and behind the scenes for the unspeakable having transpired, the unspeakable being your worst fear as a reader, the tangible evidence that your characters have pushed you to allow the unthinkable to come to pass.

Sure, action is character, but often, fearful of conservative library review boards and evangelical critics who are already hostages of some dogmatic vision, the author prevents characters from doing what people have been doing since homo sapiens evolved.  The artful and honest actor has learned to remove boundaries, often bringing by a mere gesture or pause an entire new meaning to an action, a line of dialogue, or a motive.  Writers can do no less.  Readers have in their hands--whether electronic reader or paper edition--the great option of putting the work down--and not returning to see where it went from there.

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