A blog about writing and all things story…
Today I’d like to welcome and feature author and University of Washington writing instructor, SCOTT DRISCOLL as a guest post.
Scott Driscoll, an award-winning instructor (the University of Washington, Educational Outreach award for Excellence in Teaching in the Arts and Humanities 2006), holds an MFA from the University of Washington and has been teaching creative writing for the University of Washington Extension for seventeen years.
Subtext: There’s More to it than Meets the Eye (by Scott Driscoll)
There is a commonly held misconception among fiction writers that tension derives from plot. That once we have the reader asking, gee, wonder what she’s going to do next, we’ve done our job.
Right? Wrong. The manic obsessions and repressed desires that lurk under the surface, the subversive elements of subtext, go infinitely farther than plot toward causing tension in a character’s familiar world. Tension derives from an imbalance that is a compilation of need and fear and repressed desire that will cause a character to pursue an Object of Desire far beyond the object’s value. Despite the high level of risk. Even because of it.
To understand the subversive nature of manic obsession or repressed desire, Charles Baxter, writing in The Art of Subtext, suggests that you ask: What is the “unthinkable thought” that haunts your character? What is the “unsayable” thing?
Consider the eponymous hero in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. After feeling rejected again at one of his famous parties, Gatsby declares to his friend, Nick, “She didn’t have a good time,” and “I feel far away from her. It’s hard to make her understand.” Long suffering but infinitely patient Nick observes to the reader: “He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you.’ After she had obliterated three years with that sentence they could decide upon the more practical measures to be taken. One of them was that after she was free, they were to go back to Louisville and be married from her house—just as if it were five years ago.” In response to Gatsby’s insistence, Nick replies, “I wouldn’t expect too much of her.” And we know this is good advice, but we also know it is advice Gatsby will not accept. We ache for Gatsby not because we wonder what trick his seduction of Daisy next holds in store, but rather because we know that he cannot think the unthinkable thought, that he never will, that he day he does, it’s over for him. Life will have no value.
Subtext threatens the stability in a character’s world because it “can” be thought, and therefore “has been” thought, by someone in the character’s world, and the character’s intuitively knows this. Often it’s the case that, just like us in our depressive moods, the character “has” thought the unthinkable, but has repressed it, refuses to look at it directly, until a force of opposition leaves her no choice. As soon as our character, while in pursuit of the Object of her Desire, stops repressing the unthinkable, she is forced to consider an image of herself that directly and forcefully contradicts her most deeply held value. Now she is ruined.
On the day Gatsby shoots himself with his own revolver, Nick reports: “If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with aa single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered and found what a grotesque thing a rose was…”
Would you like to take a class with Scott? Here is your opportunity;
UW Literary Fiction I: Intro to Literary Fiction
The Hybrid on-line and on-campus Course WRI FIC 110
Course dates: January 10 – Apr 7 Foundations, and April 11 – June 27 Capstone
Meets on campus once a month on designated Saturdays
Currently open for enrollment
Resources for WRIFIC110: Required Textbooks, websites, etcs.
1. Writing Fiction, The Eighth Edition by Burroway, Janet, 2011, Paperback: ISBN: 978-0-205-75034-4
2. The Best American Short Stories 2011, edited by Geraldine Brooks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: ISBN: 978-0-547-24216-3
3. How Fiction Works by Wood, James, Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-3741-734-01
110 is designed to explore fiction writing as craft. We will cover points of technique (plotting, character development, point-of-view, etc.), read from and discuss stories, and do occasional “sudden writings” in class to practice technique. You’ll be given opportunities to bring in your own work for workshopping. In the final class meeting, all participants will be expected to workshop a finished story (or novel chapter).
Course learning objectives By the end of this course, students will be able to:
o Identify writing techniques such as plotting, character development, and point-of-view;
o Read stories and discuss writing techniques
o demonstrate writing techniques in their writing
o Complete a short story
THANK YOU, SCOTT!
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