I’ve been writing a very long time so when my learning curve takes a leap, I have to share it.
Writing too “on the nose” (a term recently introduced to me by my editor) is a sure-fire way to spoil the readers’ experience. They will be robbed of the very thing they are craving – subtext and subtleties inside the story. Readers want to make their own interpretations and we have to remember they are smart enough, intuitive enough, to do just that. Readers want the reading experience to be alive. And, they want it in technicolor.
Here is an example of where my editor caught me.
My writing: I don’t care about money. I just want to feel safe, loved. I want my friends to like me. I want to ferret out the truth so my family returns to normal.
Editor: Sounds too simple and on-the-nose. You want to imply/show these things rather than say them outright.
What she forgot, or was too kind not to mention, my POV character would never have said “I want to ferret out the truth.” That was me, the author, talking.
On-the-nose writing is unnatural, and unexciting. And if the reader recognizes the words as author’s instead of the character’s, the novel becomes merely a piece of reading material.
Here’s an example of a too-on-the-nose internal dialogue::
I’m lucky Sears and Roebuck delivered my silk stockings on time. Bare legs wouldn’t be nearly as impressive, besides I want to be in style. As I pull them on, I think about tonight. I’ll find a quiet place where Samuel and I can be alone. Will I let him kiss me?
Now for the more colorful version from my Work in Progress. Notice the subtext:
I slide the stockings up to my thighs, roll the tops, and give a word of thanks to the Sears and Roebuck Gods for the delivery. The screen in my head flickers with thoughts of tonight’s picture show, me as the lead actress — Samuel sitting next to me on a well-chosen bench; the carnival lights catching the silk shine on my legs when I ease my dress up to my knee.
Think subtext – I like to think of them as hidden messages.
How boring it would have been if Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger) had told Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) “Yes, I love you. I’ll take you back.” But she didn’t. She said that famous line, “You had me at Hello.”
Think natural, yet colorful dialogue (unless they are sitting on a therapist’s couch, people rarely say exactly what’s on their minds).
Think of better visual clues: “She pulled the sweat-soaked shirt away from her skin and looked up. Nothing but sun. Even the birds were too hot to fly.“
Think of a colorful world where information is not allowed to be dumped into the readers laps.
If it sounds a bit like “show vs. tell,” it is. But WITH the added bonus of rich dialogue, subtext and subtleties.
As my editor told me with metaphor – Let the readers enjoy the roller coaster ride on their own. If there is someone behind them (the author) telling them where the drops or loops come up, the thrill is gone.
HERE is a great article that gives excellent examples of how the screenwriter of This is Us avoided “on the nose” by using subtlety and subtext.
Look for me on instagram for additional wrapped goodies (including a trash bag for the posts you don’t like) 😜
Each of my paintings is a time marked and stamped with a memory. There are so many canvases stacked in corners of my house and even the worst ones are difficult to part with. Throwing them away is like saying that moment didn’t count. But it did. The process filled me. Now, as I work on my manuscript, I visit them on occasion, blow a little dust off their corners.
Yep, felt a bit spunky when I wrote this. But don’t we all know people who, through our eyes, their kindness fades or we see something in their character that we can no longer tolerate? We get to choose our friends, our partners. If our relationship with them causes us to feel emotionally damaged, we also get to unchoose them. Cool, huh? Easy? Not always. Still, life is short and we all deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. Because that’s what we give, right?
I so miss my boxing days but you can’t hit pads with social distancing. Still, the lessons I’ve learned still remain including – “fight when you’re tired.” Photo taken in Brooklyn, NY at the famous Gleason’s Gym. #activism #equality
For me, and perhaps for you other Americans as well, this July 4th has been very different from all the others. I miss being able to travel from “sea to shining shore” to see fireworks, to have BBQ’s that include more family and friends. I miss the president whose mission was to unite us instead of divide us. Tonight before bed, I will watch Hamilton then clothe myself in strength and wake with the determination that America will secure for us a better tomorrow.
Amazing how one can be inspired by reading a child’s picture book. In “Strictly No Elephants,” the children with exotic pets were not allowed into the pet club. So, they build their own club where everyone was welcomed. A great lesson on the feeling of being left out and of acceptance.
This week, in celebration of Juneteenth, I wanted to share a compilation or writers who contributed to our world through their words. Because, unless you haven’t heard –
Black Lives Matter.
Note: The backdrop for these images is the Pan African Flag that symbolizes freedom
Harriet Jacobs was an escaped slave who became an active abolitionist. The story of her pursuit to publish this novel is a lesson for all writers. Read more about her here.
Jessie Redmon Fauset, editor, poet, essayist, novelist, and educator, focused on portraying a true image of African-American life and history.
Writer Zora Neale Hurston, sometimes known as the “Queen of the Harlem Renaissance” grew up in Eatonville, Florida – America’s first town to be incorporated and governed entirely by African Americans. She is perhaps best known for her book, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” (which I just bought and can’t wait to read) I noticed a movie was made from the novel starring Halle Berry.
Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize. In 1950 she received the Pulizer Prize for Poetry for “Annie Allen”.
Nikki Giovanni Jr. (born 1943) is a poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator. She gained initial fame in the late 1960’s as one of the foremost authors of the Black Arts Movement.
Margaret Walker Alexander was part of the African-American literary movement in Chicago known as the Chicago Black Renaissance. Her notable works include “For My People” (1942) which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and for her Civil War novel, “Jubilee.”
In memory of Emmitt Till, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and too many others.
If this poem resonates with you, please post of your compassion and tag me or leave a comment so I can be filled up with your words Or, feel free to share this one.
“They settle into the seats around me
and make themselves comfortable.
They nudge, prod and poke
but I ignore them.
The memories want me
to pay them attention
to take me somewhere I’ve already been
and don’t care to go back to.
They speed me down the track
faster than this train is accustomed,
faster than I can put a stop to.”
The first memory is safe.
(Edited excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper)📕
The photo was taken a year ago during my visit to Italy.🇮🇹
I do hope, that in reality, this young woman’s memories were good ones.🙏🏽