It’s Friday, which is not normally a blog day for me, but I thought I’d comment on a couple of reader comments on yesterday’s post on subtexting.
So subtext would then seem to be a literary technique like dramatic irony involving information withheld from the characters.
But you say “I don’t plan subtexting either. I just write.” Why not plan subtext? Shouldn’t an author plan what info to withhold?
Also, what is the broader term for literary techniques that withhold information?
Randy sez: I’m not sure if it’s a matter of withholding information from characters, so much as it’s a matter of characters acting the way real people do–which is to say they lie, fib, prevaricate, obfuscate, and dissimulate. Once in a while, they even tell the truth, if it suits their interest.
You said that you “don’t plan subtexting either. I just write.” which I’m surprised to hear; when I write dialogue or interior monologue, I’m very aware of what my characters aren’t saying, as much as I am of what they are — perhaps I’ve spent too much time studying Pinter, but that’s crucial for my character development.
Randy sez: I’ll answer Wayne’s second question and Elizabeth’s first at the same time. There are really four main activities we do as writers when we create fiction:
Different people put different amounts of efforts into each of these, depending on their personal tastes. Let’s look at each of these:
Research: Michener was a research puppy and Clancy is one now. Grisham doesn’t care for research. I like research, and have done some rather insane amounts. I have a lunar calendar valid for Jerusalem between the years A.D. 50 and A.D. 75. I made it myself, using astronomical tables of new moons. I once wrote a computer program to calculate trajectories of spacecraft between earth and Mars (for my novel OXYGEN). It took me 3 weeks to answer a question my coauthor and I had about whether a deep-space rendezvous could be done. I showed that it could, and calculated the exact date it could occur. We revised our plot slightly to accommodate this.
Planning: Frank Peretti and Davis Bunn like to do quite meticulous outlines. Jerry Jenkins and Robin Lee Hatcher prefer to just sit down and type the story without any planning. My Snowflake method is a planning tool that is very flexible and will accommodate both the meticulous folks and those (like me) who want to have some structure but leave some surprises, although it is not much use for those who don’t want to plan anything. I need to plan out the large-scale structure of the story, but I need to NOT plan out the details. There is no right or wrong choice on planning that works for everyone–there is only the right or wrong choice for YOU.
Writing: Some people hate writing first drafts and some love it. I love it and write quite fast. In January, I interviewed Susan Meissner on this blog, who shared how she routinely writes a novel in 30 days or so. That speed is about right for me, too, IF I’ve done my research and my planning. But there are also those who write very slowly and painfully, leaking the story out of their veins one word at a time. Again, whatever works for you is whatever works. I have tried writing slower and the result was worse writing.
Editing: Some people love editing and others hate it. I don’t particularly like it. I have a suspicion that those who hate the first drafts love the editing, whereas those of us who love the first draft tend to hate the editing. Once again, this is a choice each writer has to make.
The bottom line then is that you only have 100% of your time and effort to give to any project. You can apportion more or less of it on the four phases: Research, Planning, Writing, and Editing, but it’s all going to add up to 100% in the end. There is no set of proportions that is “best” for all writers. But for YOU there is probably one best way to split your time in order to get the best out of yourself. Your mission is to find that split and stick to it.
Here’s roughly my split:
Now I can answer Wayne and Elizabeth on why I don’t plan my subtexting–I prefer not to. It works better for me not to. But for some people it works better to plan it.
I’m curious how my Loyal Blog Readers split their time. If you’re brave, post a comment with your estimated apportionments for Research, Planning, Writing, and Editing.