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How subtle is too subtle?



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Fri Aug 23, 2013 11:42 am
Blackwood says...



I was just sitting there, as I do and I started pondering the complexities of writing. Admit it, you all like to put in at least something that's a bit secretive, something you want to tease the reader into finding out later; or something that really is something else.

I like being subtle and secretive, but then again I like being evil in my writing too, however sometimes I think that as an author, we see things that a blatant to us which are near impossible for readers to get unless pointed out.

For example, not long ago I wrote a poem about taking a shower, a simple mundane thing, shrouded in imagery and metaphors, yet no-one I showed seemed to get it.
Same thing goes for stories.

I am really curious on things that make writing subtle for you and what is too subtle and what is not subtle enough. Are our readers really as smart as we hope they are?
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Fri Aug 23, 2013 6:18 pm
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Rosendorn says...



I find subtle for the sake of being clever about it— the mentality of "Oh look at how hard this information is to find. I'm such a good writer!"— is something that should be cut 90% of the time. That isn't being subtle, that's being smug. It's something that is either a cryptic mess, or so obvious that it's nowhere close to subtle.

Also, separating writers and readers is a mildly dangerous assumption. Some people have never written a word in their lives yet are some of the best people to spot every little thing in the series because they've read so much. While some writers do not yet have the skill to pick out some of the tropes used, simply because they lack experience.

When it comes to prose, subtle, for me, comes in a few forms:

- Easter eggs. These are things you put in just as fun facts that might tie everything together, or that might relate to something in your life, ect. Usually you have to know something about the author and/or academically to pick up on these.

- Foreshadowing. Now, bad foreshadowing can blow the whole plot, okay foreshadowing can make people have really good guess for what happens, good foreshadowing is only caught on reread, and great foreshadowing can hit easter egg territory, you have to study the work so many times.

- The world itself. Little clues that say "this place is different". How they eat, how they dress, what they worry about, a line like "the clocks struck 13". They're not treated special at all, because the characters wouldn't treat those details as special. It's day to day life, after all. They are, however, very noticeable to the reader.

Those are in order, from least noticeable to most.

Poetry is a totally different beast, because it is as a general rule meant to capture a moment. Subtle language is built into the whole experience that is a poem. In which case "too subtle" is "there isn't enough information here for people to get it."
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Sat Aug 24, 2013 4:58 am
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niteowl says...



I'm not really that subtle, at least in my mind. Yet it often seems that what I think is blaringly obvious, someone misreads. I used to get annoyed when people mis-interpreted my poems, but now I find it kind of interesting to see what people get out of it.

What does annoy me a bit, however, is when someone says something like "Well, you said X, which doesn't make much sense with the meaning Y, so do Z instead". Problem is, I meant X, not Y. At which point, like Rosey said, I have to decide: Am I being clear enough? Or is this just one odd reading?
"You do ill if you praise, but worse if you censure, what you do not understand." Leonardo Da Vinci

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Sat Aug 24, 2013 5:48 am
Blackwood says...



I also enjoy seeing how people interpret things I write, especially when they come up with their own extended explanation it makes me feel content that they have thought about my work so deeply. But its when everyone excessively doesn't seem to understand that I can get frustrated alot. For example in my sting of air poem no-one really got it except I didn't feel frustrated at all, however in my short story, unicorns exist, a few people understood it well, but so many people seemed very ignorant to it that I started thinking they didnt understand on purpose.

Sometimes I am afraid of including subtle hints, and although at the end of a story I would like to leave the reader with the interpretation such as (some random examples) "Was it all real or was it a dream?" or "That person really actually was/did xyz", that a reader may not appreciate this or like this. I have often read writing tips about 'cheating your reader out of an explanation' but sometimes I think its better without. For example a book i recently finished made me want to throw it across the room and yell. Everyone was living happily ever after. Everyone good person died really wasn't dead. the one who did die was an ex-baddie, and it had everyone living happily ever after with explanations full into the future. Sure they tied up lose ends, but they did it way too much. I would have preferred if that guy who had died stayed dead without happening to be alive so the characters could explain everything that happened and say goodbye. Living with regret is something realistic. I also would have preferred if someone who was removed from the main characters lives stayed removed. Id much rather be left with wonder and mystery of what could have become of that person instead of having them be magically all better in the future. Yeah sorry for that rage.

I know that I like subtle endings as such, ones that makes me research how other people interpreted it.
For example the ending of 'a series of unfortunate events' really came across like this to me and I enjoyed it. (Don't worry no spoilers)

I guess all I have said applies to things throughout as well as endings.
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Sat Aug 24, 2013 7:37 pm
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CowLogic says...



For example the ending of 'a series of unfortunate events' really came across like this to me and I enjoyed it. (Don't worry no spoilers)

I agree. I mean, at first I was disappointed that they didn't tie up a lot of stuff, but eventually, I realized that what he did was the best way to end that series. And it left me feeling exactly the way the author wanted me to feel. Numb, sad, and curious, but with a little bit of hope.

I mean a lot of the sadness came from the fact that those books were a big part of me growing up, shaping the way I looked at things and my humor. The ending was really fitting for it.

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Sat Aug 24, 2013 8:32 pm
deleted17 says...



Our readers are smart, it's just that you sometimes have to think about how old your readers are.

Other Times, they may not just get it.

So no worry!
Have your chin up, and speak up.Otherwise, nothing will get done.And what you need to say, will never be heard.Just be confident in what you say, and stand by it
  





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Sun Aug 25, 2013 2:18 am
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kayfortnight says...



For me personally, this feels much worse when it happens to my prose than my poetry. My poetry tends to have very obvious meanings, just meant to evoke a certain emotion, tell a story, or ask a question. I'm actually flattered if someone thinks my work is complicated enough to have a deeper meaning. I'm not exactly fond of writing with symbolism.

As for my prose...I like to write novels. There's always something hidden in a novel. We're playing a guessing game with every move, and I sometimes forget the readers can't see into my character's heads as well as I do. That leads to situations where I wonder if I'm being too obvious or subtle-can my readers tell that one character giving another a kiss on his cheek and fiddling with his ring later is leading up to him announcing his engagement later, or do they feel I'm bludgeoning them over the head with it? And when they misinterpret because it's too subtle or because they expect it to follow a certain trope, that make me sad. What if they think the way one character knows another means they're in love, when I just mean to imply a close friendship.

That's why telling is so easy. Nobody can misinterpret telling. Showing is far thinner of a line.
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Mon Aug 26, 2013 3:54 am
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Rosendorn says...



The thing about showing is, it's realistic. You hit a nerve with that unrealistic book, Blackwood, because you brought in that aspect of subtlety.

Actions are subtle, and showing those actions leads to multiple interpretations... just like in real life. A cast of well developed characters should look at a scene and see it differently. Remember it differently. Come up with sometimes wildly different ideas for what happened.

Novels are dependent on their internal logic and their characters. So in a lot of ways, if the character needs to be hit over the head with a brick to get something, that's what you have to do. They'll ignore previous clues.

You can't make everyone happy, so you have to keep your target demographic in mind. Not everybody loves every book, so I tend to focus more on character than anything.
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo

Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.

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