Sunday, January 25, 2009

too close, too far away

I'm having this problem with my writing. It's not a recent problem, but it's a problem nonetheless.

I can't seem to write subtext.

Chekov I ain't, that's for sure.

Actually, I wasn't even going to call it subtext. But I think that's what it is.

When I'm working on a play, I often have very explosive emotions I'm dealing with. I often have very personal, private, emotional issues. Children coming out of the closet. Lovers cheating. Love revealed. Pain, happiness. But how do I do it without saying 'i don't support you', i support you', 'i hate you for cheating', 'leave your lover', 'i've loved you always'. How do I get there without using a regular map, the well beaten path?

On the playwrights' forum (, I had posted about this problem. And I felt like a total moron doing this. I mean, I should know how to do this, right?

Wrong. I'm the 'heart on the sleeve' kind of person, and not everyone is. So, it's hard when you're dealing with characters who aren't, and plus I think it's more interesting when there's things that are unsaid.

So now I'm dealing with the subtext of the plays I'm working on, especially 'Grace Kelly'. I'm trying to get this one revised, because I want to get it ready to be read by my friend, Terry. He said he would help me with it, so, I'm working on it.

I'm just too close to the characters, but too far away to actually make the play work. I guess it just needs more time.

I hate dealing with this sort of blockage...thankfully i don't usually have to deal with this. But I need to deal with this, or I'm not getting any further with my work.


Chris said...

I must say that I've often had issues with subtext. When I first started writing, my subtext was so far "sub" that no one could recognize it and simply saw characters talking about "nothing."

It's a delicate balance. The ways that I work with it is forcing myself to not let a character say what they're feeling. I give them a good reason not to say something, e.g. a character can't tell this other character that he's madly in love with her because he doesn't want to ruin the friendship. Or, a boss can't come right out and tell his male employee that what he wants to do more than anything in the world is have a night of unbridled sex with him because the employee is getting married.

The reason behind the subtext is key. If you figure that out, then you can have your characters pick and choose their tactics. For example, in the first situation in which the character is in love with his best friend, he may not be able to tell her he loves her, but he can sure as hell insult the guy she's in love with. Or, in the second situation, the boss can try to convince his employee that he's too young to get married. Subtext is about pecking at the edges, rather than stabbing at the heart.

Hope this gives some ideas!

Toni Wilson said...

"Subtext is about pecking at the edges, rather than stabbing at the heart."

I like that. I'm adding it to my list of things to think about when it comes to working with wubtext. I think I might need to go read some Chekov. Sad, isn't it? I've written several papers on 'The Three Sisters' and i still don't get it. Subtext I mean. I guess I'm just thick.

Although, subtext is SO HARD to do. I suppose when it breaks through, it will break through.

and forcing a character to NOT be able to see what he or she is feeling is a good tactic. I actually have used it, but I'm still struggling. Maybe I just haven't gotten to the heart of things.

But when i get there, i will peck, not stab.

Adam said...

Jane Martin comes to mind--maybe Keeley and Do (I might be spelling that wrong) but Jane, I think comes to mind as someone who sometimes writes with the heart on the sleeve. The thing is, sometimes that can work depending on how you do it.