Tuesday, 20 August 2013

SUBTEXT - IT'S WHAT YOU DON'T SAY



When we walk into a room, we use all our senses to assess the situation. We pick up the mood, check out who’s talking to who and register how welcome we are by any number of subtle body language clues given out by others such as facial expressions, eye movements, body posture and gestures. Often what is not said tells us more than what is said.

Subtext is the term used to show how we reveal conflict, rivalry, envy or relationships between characters when the writer wants the reader to draw these conclusions. The subtext reveals the true feelings and motivations using implicit rather than explicit methods. You want the reader to feel the tension rather than read about it and not revealing everything straight away is a good way to keep readers interested.

In conversation most people don’t reveal everything in a straightforward manner and the most frequent way subtext is disclosed is through dialogue. Sol Stein in his book How to Grow a Novel’ states: “What counts in dialogue is not what is said but what is meant.”

Subtext is not meant to confuse so a writer needs to be clear on what motivates their characters even if their dialogue is ambivalent. To quote David Mamet, "Characters might hardly ever say what they mean, but they always say something designed to get what they want."

We understand the subtext through a character’s actions and reactions.

She lies still, feeling the length of his body along hers; she wonders if she could live without its known familiar lines.
‘Rob wants to shoot another video this evening. Friend of his has a small studio.’ She doesn’t respond. ‘The sound’ll be better.’
‘What time?’
‘We’ve all to meet Rob at the Singing Kettle - round sixish.’
She wonders what Billy would do if he knew about Jack.
‘I better get going.’
Billy grunts in response.
‘Bring me back some fags’ he throws after her as she closes the door.
Outside the room Gemma slumps, head bowed, against the door. If only Billy would get a job, they’d be able to move out of this stinking rotten place with its peeling damp-stained wallpaper, black mould and grime. It’s always been just the two of them but she’s getting real tired carrying them both. Inside Billy starts practising his new riff. Someone in the flat below turns on the radio and a thumping bass beat reverberates up through the floor. She’d better move or she’ll be late.


Here the reader can tell by Gemma’s responses during the conversation, as well as by her interior monologue and action after leaving the room, that something’s up. We also know that Billy is blissfully unaware of her unfaithfulness and her feelings about him. 

Writers can also use subtext to engage with political, sexual or religious ideas which if presented overtly would put some readers off the book. Hemingway’s short story, Hills Like White Elephants is often given as an excellent demonstration of how to use subtext. 
Whether you use subtext in dialogue, for theme or to show relationships between characters it is a technique worth studying and using it adds layers of emotion and meaning to a story. 

Writing Update

Last week I started off slow but by the end of the week I’d achieved a certain momentum in my work, but again this week – even though I worked Saturday and Sunday – I’m starting slow again. Hopefully I’ll pick up more speed as the week goes by. I've set myself the goal of two chapters a week. I find that having writing goals works for me. I just have to make sure I don’t beat myself up if I don’t achieve them – use them as a challenge, a motivating factor, not as something that I guilt myself about – being flexible about achieving them is important. 

None of the places in John Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress quite fit the bill for where I am currently  as far as my novel goes. Fortunately, and as long as I can keep writing, I’ve avoided the Slough of Despond and writing the novel was more like an exhilarating mountain climb than Hill Difficulty. I seriously want to avoid the Valley of Humiliation and Castle Doubting and I have to admit, I would probably say that my goal is to finish editing and spend a little time on Plain Ease.

I regret that I'm running out of doodles and drawings to put up and not finding the time to do more so I might start recycling soon. And my time on social media at the moment is limited (miss you all on Google+) but the  reason I'm blogging is because of my writing...so I must continue to edit - and write!
 
Today’s Haiku
penguin business men
huddle with heads together –
eat hot paninis 

Useful Links
Something to be aware of:
This is a helpful post for those who have a book ready to go:

Reading Recommendations:
http://amzn.to/18SbSaG  Gold Dragon Haiku  - my first attempt at publishing poetry!

Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku

To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS


 
Stream of consciousness is a technique used when a writer wants to illuminate the internal world of a character by showing their thoughts as they pass across the mirror of the mind.
Just as an exercise, write down - even for 10 to 15 seconds - your thoughts as they arise. 

pale grey sky light blue clear in the distance they’re up what colour for the bathroom leaves moving should I wear the blue or the purple what should I give him faint breeze  town or country blog edit poster nothing tired spacing out better look lively ouch traffic grey green lush forest

As you can see, my mind is more like a bubbling pot that splashes hot water all over the stove, and even with punctuation wouldn't have much coherence.  So when a writer uses stream of consciousness they are using it with intent and every word is deliberate and serves a purpose relating to how they are portraying a particular character.

Virginia Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway and James Joyce in Ullysses are two of the most well known exponents who have used stream of consciousness successfully. The advantage is that there is an immediacy (okay, maybe not in my example) to the writing as the reader experiences exactly how a character reacts to circumstances and events.  The disadvantage is that it can be difficult to write and to read. 

There are a certain number of people who never finish Joyce’s book in particular because they find it hard to read. In a famous 1933 US court decision, Ulysses was labelled dirty, blasphemous, and unreadable. Others, including the playwright Samuel Beckett, and poets Ezra Pound and T. S. Elliot, declared it brilliant. This is a long book, and takes time to read – there are even guides and lectures – but I’d put it on a to-be-read list any day for aspiring writers. 

Writing Update
I’ve had a break for about a week and I’m rediscovering the importance of routine. I have the greatest admiration for writers such as  Mrs. Gaskell, a 19th century rector’s wife, who wrote many of her novels and short stories while sitting at the kitchen table with her children under her feet, as I find it’s taking time to re-establish my writing rhythm.

I remind myself endlessly of the importance of details – not the how many times has she had breakfast today kind of detail – but the 2/3 and even 4 word repeated phrases that ProWrite picks up. And I’m getting faster but it’s painstakingly labour intensive work. However, the task is not without pleasure and the reward is a tighter piece of writing, which is good. 

My activity on Google+ has reduced and I didn't write a post for my blog last week. It felt like I was neglecting a child. Writing posts takes time out of the editing marathon but I do enjoy writing them and I did miss it!  So, I’m working on getting back into the Googlesphere and reciprocating with the many supportive writers I’ve met there.

So thank you for visiting. Your reading this blog is important to me (yeah, I know I sound like one of those voices on the end of the phone) but I mean it!  

Today’s Haiku
single raindrops race
downwards to join with others –
burbling with laughter

Useful Links:
For anyone wishing to investigate self-publishing, the following link gives a straightforward overview of the process.
For those who have not attempted Joyce’s Ulysses, this post is a good starting point. http://biblioklept.org/2010/06/16/how-to-read-james-joyces-ulysses-and-why-you-should-avoid-how-to-guides-like-this-one/

Reading Recommendations:
http://amzn.to/18SbSaG  Gold Dragon Haiku  - my first attempt at publishing poetry!

Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku

To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.

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Apart from writing, I'm compiling a bucket list of places I'd like to  visit...from Iceland to Hawaii and onwards....
         

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