Sleuthing & Subtext

I just read two thought-provoking articles that shared gems I hope to employ in writing the first draft of my next novel’s first chapter – hopefully by this weekend!

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One article discussed what the mantra of “show don’t tell” actually means. The writer boiled it down to the concept of “sleuthing” – creating scenes where readers must conduct a bit of detective work in order to figure out what’s going on with the characters. This makes readers feel more engaged in the story, helps them feel as though they’ve come to know the characters better, and provides them with a sense of ownership of the people and the scene. “Since the reader did some work to figure out what was going on, they now feel included, emotionally invested.”

 

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The second article illustrates how we can create subtext in dialogue by taking into account all of the forces acting upon a character at a particular moment. Using the illustration of a crumpled ball of paper getting thrown into a trash can, she shows that, while the goal of the shot is to make the ball enter the receptacle, more forces come into play than just the person’s goal of making the shot. Other forces, such as the pull of gravity, the friction of the air, the breeze from the ceiling fan also come into play. The person making the shot makes an assessment (albeit subconsciously) of all those forces before taking the shot. In the same way, “With each line, we [need to] take into account all of the forces acting upon a character.” The protagonist’s goal “is not the only force acting upon the character, it is simply the most dominant. Like the fan breeze that bends the path of the paper ball, other forces will bend the behavior of a character. This is the source of subtext.”

I’m looking forward to creating scenes that invite my readers to do some sleuthing in order to discover my characters’ wants and needs. I also hope to take into account all of the forces acting upon my characters at a given moment in order to create plot points that utilize subtext. Sleuthing and subtext will add layers of dimension to my characters while also deepening my readers’ emotional connection to the characters and the story.

 

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