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Message to Readers

I hope this helps.

The Unsaid - Writing Advice

January 3, 2019


    It was a mix of reading Luna Lemon's latest work, Waiting, reviewing artificialaorta's beautifully rewritten Greek tale, the gorgon's dialogue: a tragedy in five parts, and seeing the six word story: "The smallest coffins are the heaviest" that made me decide to at last have a word with you fellow writers.
    Subtext. That's the word.
    You can tell a whole story without telling the story, and it will be so much more beautiful for it.
    Take the six word story, "The smallest coffins are the heaviest."
    There is so much subtext, so much not being said in that story. Yet we know exactly what the author is talking about.
    It would've still been sad, but not nearly as sad if the story had gone like this: "Children's coffins are the most heartbreaking."
    Yeah, no. I mean, it's true. But there's no grace, no imagination in that story. The original allows the individual to create their own answers; it allows them to fill in the blanks. 
    Which makes me immediately want to say: this is usually untrue for depicting what a flower looks like, or other imagery (although, you should definitely not give out every last detail, lest you drag your story down to the depths of writing boredom). For describing a setting, the rules are different.
    For this, I'm talking about character. I'm talking about what makes a story a story.
    Here's an exercise: write a short scene or story (or maybe even a poem). In this short story or scene, you must have two characters. These two characters are in love (it can be platonic, sibling love, etc.), but are currently quite angry with each other (at the start of the story). You must tell me how they're feeling without using the following techniques:
  • You may not have any dialogue. These two characters may not say a word to each other or to the reader.
  • You may not say they are angry and in love. Not once.
  • You may not explain why they are angry and in love.
  • You may not use the cliche of: "I hastily thought of something else." In other words, you may not approach the subject, then dance away from it using tell instead of show, because I am mean. If you want to employ the dancing method (which I would recommend), you must show: e.g., instead of saying "I hastily thought of something else" say "my insides trembled, and I focused on admiring the flowers instead." The difference? You showed me the feeling behind "I hastily thought of something else" and actually told me what else they thought of. If you must use a variation of this phrase, you need to focus on the sudden switch from memory to flowers (or something). You must show me. (Sorry guys; I'm just really tired of this cliche.)
    Okay. After (or before) you write this story I want you to write it again. This time, however, you're going to announce everything. You may do all of the above--please, do so. (WEeeelll, maybe not the last one.) For this second version, tell everyone that your characters are mad, but in love. (If you do this, would you tell me in the comments and add #unsaid to your title?)
    I recommend you keep this story short (I keep saying story, but you can write a part of a scene, too--that'd probably be better). Creating something unsaid to a story is like adding a harmony to a song that used to only have a melody. It grants power and delicious frictions or, harmony.
    Okay, on to my second exercise, because I just thought of it!
    Stories require drama to be stories. That's why we need subtext.
    This next one should be easy. First, you have your two characters (or a different two). Now, I want you to choose one of the following relationships for these two characters (or two; romance shouldn't be without friendship; also if you can think of more, go ahead):
  • Friends
  • Married couple
  • Siblings
  • Parent/child
  • Romantic
    • Both in love
    • One in, one out
    • Known to each other
    • Unknown
    Okay. Now, choose their current state:
  • Angry
  • Deeply in love
  • Frustrated
  • Sad
  • Generally upset
  • Gloomy
    (Note: it only requires one of them to be upset/deeply in love. The other can act normally). Basically, you can have anything but happy, because we want drama. :)
    Now, to the exercise: create a conversation. Please, don't even write the setting or tags. I want you to write it in script format and only write the dialogue. So, like this:

[Phone rings]
Eyana: "Hello?"
Undetermined Person: "Hi, Eyana! Could you open the file room early?"
Eyana: "How early?"
UP: "At 8:30 rather than 9:00. I promised Alder that the doors would be open early for him."
Eyana: "Well, the--"
UP: "I gotta go. Thanks!" [Hangs up.]
Eyana: "Great." 
[A half hour later. Alder is waiting in front of the door.]
Alder: "You're late."
Eyana: "Am I? It's 9:00, isn't it? I open at 9:00, so I believe I'm right on time."
Alder: "UP said that you'd be here a half hour ago."
Eyana: "Funny thing, UP called me a half hour ago telling me to be here. He doesn't seem to realize that my multitasking skills does not include being able to be in two places at once."

    I did not write that scene for this prompt, so that's why there's a third person. Anyways, that's the sort of format I want for this prompt. You only write down what's necessary. (If you do this, would you tell me in the comments and add #notsaid to the title? Thanks.) This conversation you create requires that neither party may state how they're feeling outright. They can dance around the point of their feelings, they can hint--they can't outright say it. Should be pretty easy, since that's how most people talk about their feelings, which sucks in real life, but makes for awesome storytelling drama.
    Those are your two exercises. If you can do well in these two exercises, you can make an entertaining story (and entertaining dialogue).
    Oh, did you know that sarcasm is really obvious subtext?
    Person A: "I wish we had more money."
    Person B: "And I wish I was a flying unicorn who farts rainbows and roses."

    Clearly, B isn't impressed by A's wish, but does B say it? No. But the sarcasm (and the subtext behind the sarcasm to make it sarcasm) was so obvious B might as well as said, "I'm not impressed." Which defeats the purpose of most subtext (which is to be not obvious), but I think it gets the point across.
    Now, I highly recommend watching a Pixar movie, or specifically, a Pixar short, which you can find on YouTube if you just search "Pixar short films". There are so many short films that say absolutely nothing and yet say so much. Piper is a good one for subtext, as is LiftedDay and Night, and Cloud. Also, Disney's animated short Paperman is a good one, too.
    So, I know this story doesn't quite match the requirements I set out for the first exercise (it has one character), but I think I did a decent job at subtext with my short story, Skeleton Remains, which I wrote for Pureheart's contest. Also, Luna Lemon's Waiting and artificialaola's the gorgon's dialogue: a tragedy in five parts also do a splendid job with the subtext (and are good pieces overall).
    And, no, not all subtext has to be sad; I'm just a dark person hiding in a light persona who's drawn to those dark pie
    I hope that helps! 

Feel free to ask me questions if something was unclear.

Happy new year!


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  • January 3, 2019 - 9:52pm (Now Viewing)

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  • Kahasai

    You're welcome! I really enjoyed the gorgon's tragedy.

    over 2 years ago
  • artificialaorta

    :D thank u so much for mentioning me! your advice is rlly insightful so ill try your 'challenge' out when im done w the reviews!

    over 2 years ago
  • Kahasai

    haha, you're welcome. :) I'm glad I helped.

    over 2 years ago
  • _________

    Just happened to see that you called me 'friendly neighborhood Quille' :DD That really made my day :DD Thank you! :DDD I hope a lot of people follow your tips here, they're extremely helpful :DD

    over 2 years ago
  • Kahasai

    I'm drawn to dark pie because, alas, I sometimes get distracted and can't finish my sentences. Occasionally, I'll even be so distracted I stop writing mid-word, and when I get back to it, I'll forget I even started that sentence. This particular sentence was meant to be "drawn to those dark pieces".

    over 2 years ago
  • Ursa

    This is really cool and I will try it out if I find the time.

    I am confused about one thing though. . . Why are you "drawn to those dark pie"?

    over 2 years ago
  • Kahasai

    @Quille, thanks for telling me. :)

    @Luna Lemon: I'm glad I did it right. I was a little worried I wasn't clear enough. It wasn't until I published this did I realize that about half the piece is just on the writing exercises. Oops. :) Thank you for commenting! I'm glad you're able to spark something in me, too. Your writing is quite enjoyable.

    over 2 years ago
  • _________

    I did the first idea that came to my mind when I read this. Here's the link if you wanted to read it: https://writetheworld.com/groups/1/shared/88356/version/184996
    Please let me know if this is the kind of piece you had in mind :D
    Thank you for providing these excellent tips! :DD

    over 2 years ago
  • Luna Lemon

    This was so in-depth and interesting to read! I loved all the helpful tips and thorough explanations, they were really well done and well thought out!
    And, of course, thank you so much for mentioning my piece! That really means so much to me and I'm glad I could spark something to get you to write this helpful guide to subtext.
    Great job and keep writing:)

    over 2 years ago