Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Emotional Structure revisited, part 2

I think something is wrong with me because I can't get the "how" out of my head. It's the whole lecture thing. Maybe it's just my current mania, I don't know.

...what's subtext, and how does it impact emotional structure?

There are lots of definitions for subtext. I think it's simply stuff that isn't there.

Subtext is trusting your reader.

Elizabeth Peters is classified as satire because she makes fun of herself. Her real-life alter ego is a "serious" mystery writer. Peters is mystery-lite. Her characters tell the reader what's going on in internal dialog, then tell them again.

I knew better than to tell him he looked handsome, but indeed he did; his sturdy, upright frame and square shoulders, his thick black hair and blue eyes blazing with temper formed a splendid picture of an English gentleman.

"Emerson," I cried, "with your sturdy, upright frame and square shoulders, your thick black hair and blue eyes blazing with temper, you form--"


But...when it comes to trust, Peters is right up there. She spews out Shakespeare, quotes from Donne, Rudolph Rassendyl's red rose and obscure poetry with total unconcern. Because of her I learned Lament for the Makers. And weird, totally useless bits of Egyptian mythology.

I also learned subtext.

The scene in Seeking a Large Cat, where Ramses and Nefret realize they love each is a page long. He never says he loves her, and she never says she loves him--the only thing they do is look at each other, but because of subtext, we know Ramses is hurting, and are right there with Nefret as she realizes how much she loves him.

It's--for lack of a better term--cinematic showing.

In a movie, unless there is voice-over, you understand the story through "seeing" the story, so the director has to "show" emotions through the use of actions and "remembered" actions. Movies are built on subtext.

Let's put John back on that bench. Anne is talking to him, and he's talking back--it's hard, because he's so closed off. But the reader can see John talking to Anne and through the use of deep pov as a tool to focus attention where it belongs, is aware something important to the plot and emotional journey is happening.

Subtext is what we use to ease out of the deeper pov structure.

POV-DEEPER POV-POV>>>transition

It's like a thought string. A thought string is thought that in turn retrieves other thoughts. Like a student of Shakespeare who can recite the entire cauldron scene from Macbeth when someone says, "double, double..."

Or a reader who just has to look at an author's name to know every plot and character in a eighteen book arc.

When you set up your book, certain things need to be in place. Hair color, and eye color--where it takes place. How the hero talks, in other words--what makes him tick.

If you say boo to him, will he jump, or pull a gun? Your reader goes along with a given that if a man comes up behind the hero and says, "boo!" the hero will react in a certain way. By setting expectations, you create the beginning of a thought string, which in turn creates subtext. Because if I put my hero on that bench, and someone comes up behind him, and gets ready to shout boo, and the heroine says, "Don't."

In that one word, I created subtext, because your reader knows that your heroine just stopped the man from getting a bullet to the brain. (uhm...at least in my stories)

When Anne first sits on that bench, and I drop John into deeper pov, a lot of info comes out. He's interested. She touched him, she's interested. They talk and discover they have common interests. It's not just a hello-good-bye type talk. They actually connect. So when I pull back into a slightly more shallow pov and she turns with a smile, but doesn't say anything except "bye"--your reader knows--even though it's not written, they will see each other again.

The backpack fell over. John grabbed it because it belonged to Anne, and he didn't want her to go. He held it out and waited. If she wanted to stay and talk, he was ready.
"Thanks," she said. She hesitated. "I have to go."
He released the strap, even though he wanted to hang on. She was the first person who'd shown an interest in him, and she was pretty when she smiled. She slung the bag over her shoulder and started away. Her head tipped like she was listening to something. Maybe she was having second thoughts. Maybe she wanted to stay with him and maybe get a coffee. She glanced back at him, over her shoulder, and he didn't know what to think.
"Bye," she said.
And kept going.

It's the paragraph from the last post with the subtext added in. The next paragraph is with the written subtext removed.

The backpack fell over. John grabbed it and stood, holding it out for her to grab.
"Thanks," she said. She hesitated. "I have to go."
He released the strap. She slung the bag over her shoulder and started away. Her head tipped like she was listening to something, and she glanced back at him, over her shoulder.
"Bye," she said.
And kept going.

Because we've been following John, we know he's missing something in his life. He's feeling inadequate and hesitant. He's interested, but he doesn't want to come on like a loser. Because they connected in the block of deep pov--we also know the girl really likes him. All these thought strings are already in place going into this more shallow pov/transition. It's a logical progression of events. Like a string that starts out dark black and fades the longer it stays out in the sun. It has to be dark black, because that's what it originally was. Someone put it out in the sun, so it faded, and now it's hard to see. But we know it's still there. It exists.

It's not gone because of a change of color.

Subtext is disappearing text that for all practical purposes, is still there.

...for more on emotional structure, content and the whole nine yards--maybe it's in the water?

check out this post from Joshua James and his dojo...

right here


Kaige said...

Trust your reader, trust your self? The Joshua James post was a good read. I also managed to read the Suzanne Brockman's Tall, Dark & Believable. I'm feeling vastly underprepared again, but I suspect that pressure's also coming from outside obligations as well.

It's definitely making me think that as much as I've managed to grind into this short story, there's so much more that it needs/could to be. But I think that's just the curse of the perfectionist creative type.

I think subtext is interesting because I often feel like I need someone else to read my work to tell me what's coming across that I can't see because I know what all's behind it and can't see it from the other side. Or what's worse, didn't KNOW what gems I was hiding in there that need followed up on.

jodi said...

lol, I feel your pain. I had no clue people would read so much into my character, Jen. I guess I was subconciously subtexting all along. It's probably a good idea to get a reader, though.

Now that I've done it, I can look back on it--but actually thinking about it as you write? I lean toward it being more a layering issue.

*sigh*, that's what I like about you, Kaige. You understand the whole Monk thing in regards to writing.

deanna said...

These are the kinds of insights I wait for (your two posts and the one from Joshua James), because I'm cheap and haven't paid for classes in a long time. :o)

Thanks for being a Monk-ish sort who can articulate some of what's behind what you're doing (the emotional content in the act of writing??).

Jeanna said...

Is Emerson a MLB for the Cowboys?

Joshua James said...

Thanks for the shout out, I appreciate it!