1. modus
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    modus Member

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    Exercises in subtetly

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by modus, Mar 5, 2012.

    In a medium without the luxury of visual subtleties, I think it becomes tempting to write on only the most shocking sort of events. That's why I see so many pieces about suicide, death, and the wonderful nuances of rapid blood loss. To me, this has always been a cheap way to force emotion from your audience. With this in mind, I was hoping the community could come up with an event to write on that is not inherently shocking but has the potential to touch an audience deeply.

    Maybe something like "a kid and his dad are fishing, and the kid gets the fishing line stuck in a tree on his backswing" or "a guy receives an accidental text messages from an old ex" or "grown up kid runs into his old pastor at the grocery store"

    If you guys actually know real exercises for subtlety, I'd love to hear them and try them out. Also, if there are authors that don't write on super dramatic events but are still very inspiring to you, please let me know. Thanks.
     
  2. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Exercise on subtlety.... How about choosing a scene which you normally would want to write in a not so subtle manner, like a combat scene in Afghanistan, and try writing in a subtle manner?
     
  3. modus
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    modus Member

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    That would be the flipside to my idea alright, and probably more entertaining than using a low-key event. It wouldn't help me avoid exploitative themes any better though. I don't know, I might try it, but it would be more difficult to gauge success through review.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds like you really mean low key rather than subtle. Writing without sensationalism and excess.

    Plot requires a challenge or conflict. It needs to be enough of a challenge to engage the reader, but not something over the top. For example, a story about a shy lad working up the courage to ask the miss he fancies out to the cinema.
     
  5. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    it's done all the time in certain kinds of novels and I'm about to write one myself. It's just about choosing something that might seem unimportant from a distance or for the majority of people but that still means a lot to the individual. it could be enough that this even present a major change or risk in the life of the character, emotional or physical, it doesn't need to be including murders or violence.
     
  6. blandmanblind
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    blandmanblind Member

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    There was a short story contest on here not long ago that's only real criteria was that it had to have "Kitchen" in it. I puttered around and did not enter, but I did write some lines down and came up with a tale. It was just a simple piece of a grandchild waking up on Thanksgiving morning to a smell at the house of his estranged grandparents and coming down to help cook that morning with his grandmother who he had already compared to a troll in their previous meeting from the day before. He starts really getting along with and finding her quite endearing. Even his grandfather peaked his head in, and instead of being the "apathetic, brooding dragon" that he remembered from yesterday, was instead cheeky and wistful. Capping the whole thing with his mother, the in-law who you realize had been filling the boy's head with negative notions about the grandparents from the get go, seeming very concerned about him cooking with the grandma in the kitchen before going out on the morning run with his father. That was the jist of it at least. The moral being that we build these events, first meetings, up in our heads with the opinions of others, and they play out exactly as we expect them. Then we get to start enjoying shared experiences, like cooking a grand meal, and it humanizes strangers and forms familial bonds.

    That was the last thing I can remember thinking and fiddling with that fits your criteria.

    For an exercise: Try and find the significance of

    1.) A kid who is the last one waiting for their parent to pick them up after school lets out.
    2.) The last employee, sitting late into the night at the office, and thinking about the day and how he came to still be there.
    3.) A person walking their dog on a secluded beach (maybe drawing conclusions about the locale and their life).

    I don't know, that's just what came to me in the moment. Good luck.
     
  7. modus
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    modus Member

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    This seems fun. I might also write on the "kid waiting for parents" one too.

    Maybe I'm just seeking to really master "show don't tell". I want to gauge my descriptions of body language, fleeting thoughts, carefully timed silences, interruptions/variations in word rhythm, and so on. I want to measure how they effect a reader.
     
  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say instead of looking at the big picture, look at the individual and how seemingly unimportant every day stuff can affect someone. look around you, you'll probably find a whole lot of topics to write about just by watching the people around you and make up stories about them based from what you observe or overhear when stuff happens to them. then write a short story about it.
     
  9. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    Read poetry.

    Poetry tends to write indirectly about certain things- making someone feel the emotion or impact of a thing without directly touching on it or using the traditional form of expression or description. That and think of your own experiences. Your personal experiences may have a personal point of view unique to other people.
     
  10. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Know your rhetorical devices.

    Different stylistic things -- like repetition, active vs passive voice, sentence length, sentence structure, etc. -- go a LONG way in creating different types of emotional tones, which is what allows writing about very trivial subjects to move people.
     
  11. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    I can see where you're coming from on this, and I agree. I tend towards stories of any sort when the drama is in line with the story told, instead of just there for the drama it may create.

    An easy way to measure that kind of thing is to write it and read it. Don't look for technical during a single read through, and see how it affects you.

    A friend of mine may have had a recent experience that's similar to what you're questioning. She was writing a short story that was, in a way, two stories in one. One side of it was flashbacks to a young woman's life, and the other was a third person perspective of her funeral and the reactions of her loved ones. I read it and told her that despite the main character killing herself and being driven to do so, I really didn't feel anything for her; instead, I told her, I felt more sorry and more of a pain of loss from her friends and loved ones she left behind. There just wasn't enough of what drove her MC to suicide in the story, so the MC's story simply read as, "I had a decent life with horrible things happening to me, so I killed myself."

    Point being, having a character kill themselves doesn't generate drama (though it does for tertiary characters), but the motivation and drive and plot that caused it happen does.
     
  12. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Chekhov's short stories.
     
  13. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    "a kid and his dad are fishing, and the kid gets the fishing line stuck in a tree on his backswing"

    That's a good one. Something like this:

    Tommy was beginning not to loathe fly fishing. He swung the line back once, twice, three times -- though he didn't understand why it had to be repeated, he'd been watching his dad. On the third swing, the line caught. He tried to avoid stepping in some mud as he turned around to see what had happened.

    "Stuck in that tree," his dad shouted from several yards away, putting his container of worms on the ground by the river as he came to retrieve it. "Figures you'd do that eventually."

    Tommy put the line down and stepped over some twigs, snapping them with his toes. He didn't know what to do next, so he stared at the ground as his father made his way up to the tree.

    "Good thing we didn't take you hunting," his dad said. "Lord knows what kind of trouble we'd be in."

    Not knowing what to say, Tommy hung his head and continued inspecting the soft earth under his feet.


    How about: A mother takes her daughter out to see her aunt, who sells pork buns in Chinatown that aren't very tasty. A girl is shopping for a birthday present for her new boyfriend and sees a watch that reminds her of the one her ex had worn.

    I agree about Chekov's short stories. Many stories I've enjoyed started out with only subtly dramatic situations but then tied them into a dramatic plot later, which gave the plot more depth.
     

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