Sunday, November 6, 2011

The art of being subtle

 Do you ever find yourself struggling between being subtle and too straightforward when editing a story? When I am editing  I need to find the right balance between these two trends. If I explain too much I tend to overtell, so I find myself trimming sentences or paragraphs to counteract this. On the other hand, if I hint at the theme without being too straightforward I sometimes compromise clarity. The message becomes so subtle that many readers miss the point. However, I know that eliciting different interpretations is something to be expected. After all, each reader has a unique life, a background on which the writing will reflect and acquire specific qualities. Our story  creates a life of its own.
  Most of the readers who critique my stories do a great job in communicating their perception about them, how they feel about the characters, what they fathom about the theme and the emotions that the words awakened in them.
 Another common situation that I have encountered after I finish crafting a story is that there may be a  part when the pace becomes too fast and I feel that something must be done about it.
 The point of this rambling is to state that it is, at times, difficult to find a balance between being subtle and being straightforward when editing a story.
 Do you ever struggle to find this balance? Or do you achieve it naturally and feel content with it?


  1. I think you're mainly talking about showing -vs- telling at least to some extent. I also think a lot of writers struggle with this question. We want our readers to understand without having to tell them directly. I tend to favor being subtle. I also work with several critique partners and that's how I find out if they're getting it.

  2. Yes, Cindy, you are right. To some extent, the "showing-vs-telling" plays a role in the subtlety of a story. Sometimes the stories I read belonging to what we call the "literary genre" end up being so subtle in conveying their theme, that I find them elusive.

  3. I can't imagine anyone getting this right in the first draft or even a second. It's one of those subtleties that needs careful attention in the editing process.

  4. Thanks Karen. It makes me feel better to know that I am not alone in this endless struggle. Cheers.

  5. I just saw your comment, Julia, on KarenG's blog post, about enjoying the journey--and I came over here to meet you. (I would follow, but I don't see a followers' icon.)

    I guess I just feel my way through the story at the editing stage. It isn't easy. It greatly helps to have a good critique partner/editor who has those objective eyes!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

  6. Thanks for your comment, Ann. I have no idea why you can't find the icon. I hope it's a transitory technical problem. Thanks so much for letting me know that there is a problem. I will look into it as soon as I can.

  7. Particularly in memoir, this is very difficult to balance. I agree with Ann, a good editor will help you discern where to cut back on narrative. Sometimes you can make a scene out of something you started out narrating. You just have to see how it all flows. In my first drafts, I don't worry about any of this stuff. I just let it flow out.
    Julia, thanks for your comment on KarenG's blog about reading my book. It always amazes me when someone says they've read it. Then I worry about what they thought.

  8. Hi Karen. Yes, I let it all flow in the first draft. Editing comes during a different phase. I'm glad you had the courage to write your memoir with such honesty. I enjoyed reading it and I hope it will empower people in their own life journeys. Cheers.

  9. I went from editing a novella, to editing a really sharp, frantic short story. When I went back to my novella, I really struggled with reverting to the pace that a longer piece requires. I honestly felt like all these words! They are superfluous! It wasn't true, they were just fine, but it was such an amazing contrast between being super direct and then being subtle and hiding inflection within the story. I can really relate to your worries, there!


  10. Hi Julia, I too struggle to find this balance. Sometimes I over explain and sometimes I skim over the details. My Crit Partners help me out by pointing out whatever I have missed out.

  11. Ashlee: interesting comment. I guess we learn a lot from writing different types of stories. And the more I write, the more I learn about pace. Writing can be both rewarding and frustrating. Rachna: I agree with you. Those who critique our stories can help us deal with our manuscripts from a different perspective.


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