Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Writer's Wednesday - Subtext by Melinda Curtis

Melinda Curtis is an award-winning USA Today bestseller who thinks too much about subtext, which only means she's exhausted most of the time!

Writing can be very confusing. You want to get the story on the page and it's important to let the reader know things you're interested in - like having your heroine wear that top you just picked up on sale at Macy's. And, of course, you have to put some emotion in there, plus all the delectable sexual tension. But then there's this thing called pacing that plays a humongous mental game with your head. Is it reading to fast? Too slow? Am I boring myself? Or am I so into the story, I've forgotten I wrote it?

A writer could go insane!

Now, I've been around the writing world awhile. And several years ago, some very wise New York editors decided the fast-paced read was all the rage (really, this is why authors have no hair left -they pull it all out over trends). Anyway, those clever editors figured the way to get a fast paced read was to pare everything down. And so, I found myself reading a love scene that went something like this:

"That's right."
She giggled.
"This is hot. Really, really hot."
She agreed. "You"
"I can't believe it. I was an idiot to take so long."
She grinned, in full agreement.

Fast read, right? Kudos to the author for achieving that much. But we all read for the emotion. And there ain't a spec of emotion on that page. In fact, if I opened someone else's ereader and saw this page, I wouldn't know what kind of book I was reading (well, I might have a clue, but I wouldn't be interested in reading it). Enter the value of subtext. Let's take that same passage and add some emotion.

Let's try a book for middle graders:
  "That's right," Jeremy said. "You don't have to dare me. I can walk barefoot across the street."
  She giggled, but only because she didn't think Jeremy would do it. Hadn't he seen Veronica crack an egg on that sidewalk earlier? It had cooked faster than Mom ever made them.
  Jeremy must not have, because he took off his shoes and walked across the steamy asphalt. "This is hot. Really, really hot."
  She agreed, trying not to laugh. "You"
  Jeremy ran across the road to the shade beneath Mrs. Vogel's tree, forgetting that the dare could only count if he walked across. "It can't believe it. I was an idiot to take so long."
  She grinned, in full agreement.

What if it was a paranormal:
  "That's right. You can't leave this circle while you're in attack mode." He turned away from her to check the meter readout.
  She giggled. "How can this be attack mode when it tickles?" She swung her hands outward, facing him.
  And zapped him in the butt, making his pants flame and smoke. "That's not funny. This is hot. Really, really hot." He danced around, trying to pull his pants down. "I may combust."
  She agreed. "You"
  He yelped and shucked his pants off, collapsing on the floor at a safe distance. "I can't believe it. I was an idiot to take so long."
  She grinned, in full agreement.

Excuse my bad paranormal example, but you get the idea. Without context, the reader's mind can go anywhere. You need context. But you also need pacing. And you need to get some words on the page and not constipate your brain by second-guessing if you're writing a story that is too fast or too slow. Give yourself permission to draft your story without context if it slows you down, but by all means, put some in before it goes to market! You'd be surprised at how a little context you need to add and still have a fast, involving read.

Melinda has two new releases that are fast paced but have context too: a sexy novella about a billionaire and a MMA fighter in the all new Tall, Dark & Loaded collection, currently on sale for .99 cents (but not for long); and a sweet romance novella in the connected story anthology by Harlequin Heartwarming - Make Me a Match, featuring 3 bachelors who've grown up together, played sports together, dreamed together, and failed together. Now they're hoping to turn things around by becoming...matchmakers in Alaska?


  1. These are great examples! I like how you showed us different ways the original text could go.

    1. Well, Jill...first drafts are a real crap shoot.

  2. Melinda, great post! I am already insane and I haven't been around nearly as long as you. Excellent examples! I do like a story that moves along, but not at the expense of at least some context.

    1. Context is a lovely thing. It says more than body movements in between dialogue. :)