Wednesday, May 18, 2011

'The Art of Subtext'

'The Art of Subtext', by Charles Baxter, is the first book on writing that I ever bought.

I picked it up about a year ago.

The notion of buying a book on how to write has always seemed odd to me. Sure, there's the basic grammar, paragraph, sentence structure rules and all... but is that really teaching you how to write?

Let me be the first off to say that I can't tell you the difference between an adjective and an adverb. I immediately get lost when people start throwing around words like 'syntax'. My knowledge of grammar is... well, let's call it *instinctive*. But I can just glance at a page of writing and tell you if it's high or low quality. I learned to read early, voraciously, and from all types of books. I know good writing, I just can't tell you what all the technical terms are. If I wanted to know, I'd probably go here.

So books on *how to write* have never really been of interest. I'm much more interested in learning how to edit my writing. Hence the book on subtext that caught my eye. I bought it online, so I didn't get to flip through it. No one had recommended it to me, and I hadn't seen any glowing reviews. In fact, I don't remember how I even found it in the first place.

But subtext... ah, again, a playground for the over-thinker :) Of course I was interested. I didn't even consider the practical implications... that it might help me refine my own writing... nope, it was a true nerd moment where my interest was piqued and I just wanted to know.

The first line did not disappoint:

This brief book examines those elements that propel readers beyond the plot of a novel or short story into the realm of what haunts the imagination: the implied, the half-visible, and the unspoken.

I read it through in one sitting. It's not a long book... 175 pages that are 5"x7" and it's 1/2" thick at best. It is not a heavy read.

If you've never thought much about subtext, this is an excellent little book. It has clear examples and even clearer explanations. If you're like me, and writing rules make your head hurt, I find it's much easier to learn from analyzing good writing than from a list of *do and do nots*.

I don't know if I could clearly say that it has or has not helped me become a better writer... I am not intentionally calculating and adding subtext. I don't ever think about subtext when I write my first drafts... but it has definitely heightened my awareness for finding the subtext in my own writing. And when I can find it, I can more easily enhance it and make sure that all those layers carry through the entirety of the text in a consistent and logical manner.

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