Monday, October 31, 2011

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

NOTE: We are experiencing massive power outages here in the Northeast today. I decided to reprise a seasonally timely post from the past since Sally, this week's blogging Write Sister, is one of the 220,000 without power at this moment in New Hampshire. This post was written by me and originally published on October 30, 2008. Andy

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague of mine yesterday. She teaches kindergarten and reads at least 2 or 3 picture books every day to her lucky students. Because she's teaching in a very inclusive private school, she has been able to work any and all holidays into the curriculum. Until this year.

Apparently, one of her students is afraid of witches. His mother has insisted that no books featuring a witch character be read to the class. There'll be no Piggie Pie! in that classroom this year. Margie Palatini's Gritch the Witch is going to have to find some other group of kids to delight. That's too bad. Gritch just may have helped that child deal with his witch issues.

I know this mother is well-intentioned, but I don't believe she is doing her little one any favors by screening out the witches. I think that we give our personal demons great power when we close our eyes, cover our ears, and run screaming from them. Face your fears, I say!

In my opinion, when we over-validate a child's fearful reaction, we are telling that child s/he needs to be afraid. S/he needs to be very afraid. That mother could easily turn the fear switch "off" and empower her son. All she needs is a lap and a few thoughtfully chosen picture books. She could start with Tomie dePaola's Strega Nona, and follow up with Julia Donaldson's Room on the Broom. Even though it doesn't feature a witch, I'd recommend reading Linda Williams's The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything. Talk about facing your fears! That old woman is chased through the darkening woods by clomping shoes, wiggling pants, a shaking shirt, two clapping white gloves, one nodding black hat, and a pumpkin head. They scared the hell out of her, but she dealt with it. "I am not afraid of you!" With those simple yet powerful words she took control of the fearsome pumpkin head and his disembodied accessories. She directed them to assemble themselves into a scarecrow in her garden. What a completely satisfying ending!

Unless this mother rethinks her approach, this little guy is doomed to live in fear. He'll never get to that satisfying ending, because he isn't allowed to read the book. It has been placed out of his reach.

Now that's scary.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Poetry Friday: All Souls

A few of us—Hillary Clinton, Vlad Dracula,   
Oprah Winfrey, and Trotsky—peer through   
the kitchen window at a raccoon perched   
outside on a picnic table where it picks

over chips, veggies, olives, and a chunk of pâte.   
Behind us others crowd the hallway, many more
dance in the living room. Trotsky fusses with the bloody   
screwdriver puttied to her forehead.

Hillary Clinton, whose voice is the rumble
of a bowling ball, whose hands are hairy
to the third knuckle, lifts his rubber chin to announce,   
“What a perfect mask it has!” While the Count

whistling through his plastic fangs says, “Oh,   
and a nose like a chef.” Then one by one   
the other masks join in: “Tail of a gambler,”   
“a swashbuckler’s hips,” “feet of a cat burglar.”

Trotsky scratches herself beneath her skirt
and Hillary, whose lederhosen are so tight they form a codpiece,   
wraps his legs around Trotsky’s leg and humps like a dog.   
Dracula and Oprah, the married hosts, hold hands

and then let go. Meanwhile the raccoon squats on   
the gherkins, extracts pimentos from olives, and sniffs   
abandoned cups of beer. A ghoul in the living room   
turns the music up and the house becomes a drum.

The windows buzz. “Who do you love? Who do you love?”   
the singer sings. Our feathered arms, our stockinged legs.   
The intricate paws, the filleting tongue.
We love what we are; we love what we’ve become.

                                   --Michael Collier

Write Sister, Diane, is hosting today, so grab a bag and head over to Random Noodling for a real treat.

Afterwards, check out Becca Klaver's Halloween Sampler over at The Poetry Foundation. 

The top photo is by legendary photojournalist, Robert Capa. You can read more about him here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mentor Monday: The Asus Transformer

This is the Asus Transformer.

It's a great tool for writers on the go.
It has a fabulously textured surface, and a lovely, coppery color.
It looks like a netbook, and weighs about 1.5 pounds.
When it's closed, it's compact and feels substantial.

It has 93% size keyboard . . .

and a fabulous screen -- a nifty 10.1 inch display area with a tasteful black bezel. The glass is scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass from Corning.

Yes, it does look like a netbook, but looks can be deceiving!

The Transformer is an Android Honeycomb tablet with a docking keyboard.

You can read books on it!

The Transformer tablet runs Nvidia's 1GHZ dual-core Terra 2 Platform with 1GB of RAM. No Gs though -- 3G or 4G. It does have Wifi and lots of USB ports, slots, and buttons around its perimeter. You can transfer your files to and from your PC or to an external hard drive. It's got cameras, too!

You can read more here.

If you don't use an Android phone, there will be a small learning curve. This video features the Motorola Xoom, and it's pretty much exactly how the Transformer's Honeycomb system works.

With the docking keyboard, the battery life is supposed to run 16 hours. I've yet to achieve that, but am doing some trouble shooting to figure out why. Still, I'm getting a decent 8+ hours.

It comes loaded with Polaris, a word processing program. To write efficiently you need to lock the keyboard, which is the button directly above the pound sign. Surprisingly, locking the keyboard does not affect the keyboard for other uses; it just makes it easier to use the word processing program. I keep mine locked all the time.

The price of the tablet itself is $399. The docking keyboard is $150. Altogether the price for both is the same as the Apple Ipad without a keyboard.

I went looking for an Ipad, but found out that all the college kids that work at Best Buy use the Asus Transformer.

I completely understand why!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Poetry Friday: Now Close the Windows

Now close the windows and hush all the fields:
     If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
    Be it my loss.

It will be long ere the marshes resume,
    It will be long ere the earliest bird;
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
     But see all wind-stirred.

                            -- Robert Frost

Jama is hosting Poetry Friday right here, so get over there!

Photo by Janet Buell, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Miss Representation

Tomorrow night, 10/20, at 9:00 pm, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will be showing a documentary film entitled, Miss Representation. It is part of the OWN Documentary Club. The film deals with the image of women in the media--and it's not pretty.

If you watch Miss Representation with your teens, make sure you have the boys watch, too. Then, visit your local public library and see if they have a copy of Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women. The Write Sisters looked at the documentary, Killing Us Softly 4 by Jill Kilbourne, back in June. If you missed it, click here.

Even one of the earlier three versions would be good. If your library doesn't have a copy, ask if the library can find it for you on interlibrary loan. Again, watch it with your teens, both boys and girls and talk about it! If you're a little shy about talking (yes, the topic of sex should come up), there is a study guide available from the Media Education Foundation, distributors of the film.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Mentor Monday: Putting [Your] Life into Your Stories

On that particularly perfect 4th of July, Lou and her cousins spent most of the day swimming in the river. They came out only long enough to grab something to eat. They planned these sojourns to the picnic table carefully, however. Putting ANY food in your mouth meant Mom or one of the aunts would force you to sit out for at least a half and hour so your food could” digest” and you wouldn’t die of cramping in the river’s slow current.

Dad and the uncles spent most of the day planting trees along the camp border line. The trees were young white pines dug up from the nearby woods. Their long, soft needles drooped a bit from the trauma of being pulled from the earth. Dad said they’d be fine in a few days and just needed a good dose of water after they were replanted.

Everybody hung around ‘til dark because neighbors up and down the river would parade by in their boats strung with Christmas lights to celebrate Independence Day.

Grandma opened a couple of boxes of sparklers for the children and the uncles who smoked lit them up. Lou held hers like a magic wand, sending shiny good wishes into the night. She swung her arm quickly trying to make a figure-eight stay in the air but part of it always disappeared before she completed the loop.

When it was over, Grandma gave her another and Lou watched the dark shadows come and go in the moving light of the children’s sparklers. The baby trees looked sad in their new formation but Lou thought she knew how to make them look better. She held her sparkler in the branches of the first one and for a minute, it did look like a joyful Christmas tree.

Then the yelling started and Dad was running towards the tree, tossing a full bucket of water on its burning branches. It wasn’t ‘til that moment that Lou realized the lights from her sparkler were not magic at all. They were just fire, waiting to eat something up.

Parts of this story are true. I was Lou and I did once burn down a tree my father had just planted by holding a sparkler to the branches. As for the rest, well, most of it is true, too, but not necessarily accurate to this event. The thing is, while I remember the action of holding the sparkler in the tree and its subsequent demise, I don’t really remember what came before or after. I’m guessing it was 4th of July because sparklers weren’t available to us at any other time of the year. My aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents often gathered at our river camp in the summer to picnic and swim. Were they there on that particular day? Maybe. And, I left out a lot—like my 4 younger siblings.

One of the problems I often encountered with members of my beginners writer’s group was the need to tell a story exactly the way it had happened. This was especially true of those writers who thought that a particular childhood event would make a good picture book. Unfortunately, our lives are not necessarily interesting to other people. Laura Ingalls made her life interesting by writing her stories in the third person. Doing so freed her to invent dialogue and put events in an order that created interest and tension. In the meantime, we the readers learned the truth about the lives of 19th century settler families.

In his book, Writing Life Stories, author and educator Bill Roorbach said, “…When I ask students in fiction classes for more drama in a given scene, they will often say, ‘But that’s the way it really happened!’ Conversely, students in nonfiction classes: ‘But that’s not the way it happened!’ To me the first goal, the first excellence, is artistic. The needs of other excellences, such as mere accuracy, must follow the needs of drama in a kind of hierarchy that helps make decisions as I write.”

What I was trying to accomplish in the short bit that I opened with in this post, is to tell the story of a moment when naiveté met truth. The story still needs lots of work but I’ve started setting a scene and adding characters. I don’t think I’ve reached the point where this story can be thought of as universal. Maybe, if I keep following the “needs of drama” in my rewrites, I’ll find a way to make the event work well enough so that a reader will finish the story and think: “I remember when that happened to me.” The reader won’t be remembering a burning pine tree but will, instead, call to mind a moment when a little bit of childhood was lost.

In the end, the memory of the tree burning by the river may disappear entirely. What really happened on that day is not as important as the feelings it generated in my young mind. That’s the part “that really happened” that belongs in your story.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Poetry Friday--"Nothing Is Lost"

If you are of an age and you remember the actor/singer, Noël Coward, you might recall musical performances such as this:

Coward originally titled it "What's Going to Happen to the Children?" when he wrote it back in 1927. The lyrics are shockingly contemporary, don't you think? I believe this recording is from 1955.

Besides songs, Coward also wrote poems:
Nothing Is Lost

Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.
A recording of the poem is available on YouTube if you'd like to hear more of Coward's voice.

Visit Fomograms for the Poetry Friday Round-Up.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Women of Wednesday--Noble Women Win Nobel Prize

Press release:

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2011

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 is to be divided in three equal parts between Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.

In October 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325. The resolution for the first time made violence against women in armed conflict an international security issue. It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first democratically elected female president. Since her inauguration in 2006, she has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women. Leymah Gbowee mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections. She has since worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war. In the most trying circumstances, both before and during the "Arab spring", Tawakkul Karman has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen.

It is the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s hope that the prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realise the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent.

Oslo, October 7, 2011

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

...truly women have a place, truly women have a face and truly the world has not been functioning well without the input, in every sphere, of women.
~ Leymah Gbowee

To read an excerpt from Gbowee's book, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War, click here. [Be sure to watch the new PBS series, Women, War and Peace, which features Gbowee. The series began last night, but the first episode is sure to be repeated.]

Congratulations to three deserving women! Let's all follow their example and work for women's rights, and, for peace.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Mentor Monday--Happy Archives Month!

Here's the definition of archives from the Society of American Archivists:
(also archive), n. ~ 1. Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator, especially those materials maintained using the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control; permanent records. – 2. The division within an organization responsible for maintaining the organization's records of enduring value. – 3. An organization that collects the records of individuals, families, or other organizations; a collecting archives. – 4. The professional discipline of administering such collections and organizations. – 5. The building (or portion thereof) housing archival collections. – 6. A published collection of scholarly papers, especially as a periodical.
We wish to maintain a connection with our past and that is perhaps the major reason for archives. Archives allow us to see, hear, and perhaps even touch the past.

The United States has the National Archives and Records Administration for those items of value to us as teachers, writers, and citizens. I wrote about the National Archives two years ago in this post.

The National Archives is only one of many collections. The states and territories all have archives, a list of which is available here from the Council of State Archivists (CoSA).

October is Archives Month in the U.S. according to CoSA, so this would be a great time to explore what your state archive has available to you!

The poster above is part of a slideshow of posters from the different states that are celebrating the month; click here.

The number and types of archives is enough to make your head spin. There are presidential libraries, military archives, local historical societies, etc. Check out the list titled Repositories of Primary Sources, from the University of Idaho. It includes archives from the U.S. and other countries--more than 5,000 total. Each name on the list links to a website. Who could ask for more?


Friday, October 7, 2011

Poetry Friday

Location, location, location! They say it's 'everything.' Well, they may be right when it comes to hurricanes. Here in New England, hurricanes seldom amount to much. By the time they arrive, they're usually all tuckered out and spit out some rain and blustery wind. But if you happen to live in the Carolina's or the gulf, they're a whole different animal. And what happens when they hit even further south?

Problems with Hurricanes

A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it's not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I'll tell you he said:
it's the mangoes, avocados
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

How would your family
feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
got killed by a flying

Death by drowning has honor
If the wind picked you up
and slammed you
Against a mountain boulder
This would not carry shame
to suffer a mango smashing
Your skull
or a plantain hitting your
Temple at 70 miles per hour
is the ultimate disgrace.

The campesino takes off his hat—
As a sign of respect
toward the fury of the wind
And says:
Don't worry about the noise
Don't worry about the water
Don't worry about the wind—
If you are going out
beware of mangoes
And all such beautiful
sweet things.

~~~Victor Hernandez Cruz

Today's Poetry Friday is over at Great Kids' Books
Trek on over, but watch out for the flying fruit

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Women of Wednesday - Pauline Cushman: Union Spy

Pauline Cushman stood before Confederate General Forrest. She had just been caught spying and things did not look good.

"I have no time now, Forrest told her, to investigate your case. It is a complicated and difficult one. I will, therefore, send you to General Bragg's headquarters, at Shelbyville, and if you should be so fortunate as to prove your loyalty to the South, you may always depend upon General Forrest for protection. But this, I am sorry to say, I do not believe possible, and therefore say, prepare for the worst, for hanging is not pleasant."

It certainly wasn’t, but spying was probably the most pleasant thing Pauline Cushman ever did. She was born Harriet Wood in 1833, in New Orleans, and when her father’s business failed, he moved the family to western Michigan, still very much the frontier. It must have been quite a change for Harriet, and not a good one because, at 17, she packed her bag, changed her name to Pauline Cushman, and headed to New York to become an actress.

Pauline found work easily, but when she was offered an acting job in New Orleans, she quickly abandoned New York for the city of her birth. Almost 20, she met and married Charles Dickinson, a musician, who promptly took her home to mother in Cleveland, Ohio. The couple lived there until Pauline gave birth to a son, and they finally found their own place. Pauline had a second child, a daughter this time, and life went on. Until the Civil War began.

Charles joined the 41st Ohio Infantry band. A year later, he was stricken with chronic diarrhea. By the time he was discharged and sent home, he was so emaciated, Pauline hardly recognized him.

"When my husband came home from the Army, he was in very poor health, in fact a complete wreck...I had two small children to take care of and was unable to take care of both them and him and as his father had a very large house with plenty of room and he had two brothers and three sisters at home beside his father and mother, he went there to be taken care of... I heard his condition every day and frequently saw him. We never expected him to get any better but regarded him beyond the hope of recovery."

As expected, Charles died. Pauline had to support her children, and the only thing she knew how to do was act, so she left her children with her sister-in-law and returned to the stage. In no time at all, she was performing again, this time in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kentucky was a border state held by the Union, but it had many Confederate sympathizers. One day, a couple of Confederate prisoners on parole approached her and offered her $300 if she would toast Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy on stage. Pauline was loyal to the Union and immediately went to the Provost Marshall and told him about the offer. He questioned Pauline and, feeling she could be trusted, made her an offer of his own. How would she like to be a spy?

The next night during the play, Pauline raised a glass and, instead of saying her lines, she turned to the audience.

“Here’s to Jefferson Davis and the Southern Confederacy. May the South always maintain her honor and her rights.”

The crowd was shocked into silence, Unionists and Confederates alike. Pauline was fired, arrested, then immediately sent into the arms of the awaiting Confederates who welcomed her eagerly. Once there, she proceeded to be a charming, flirtatious woman, and she soon knew where the Confederates were getting their information and supplies.

Pauline continued to gather information as she made her way from camp to camp on the pretense of looking for her missing brother. (It seems she had six or seven brothers, and some accounts say one of them really was an officer in the Confederate army. Other accounts say it was a made up story.) Eventually, she came to the attention of Colonel Truesdail, Chief of the Union Army Police in Nashville. He wanted her to infiltrate the enemy camps in Tennessee and learn about their defenses. He warned her that it would be dangerous, and if she were caught, she could be hanged. He advised her to never write anything down, never steal papers, and never make drawings. The key to success was to commit everything to memory.

Pauline was an actress. Memorizing was what she did. She swore an oath on the Bible, kissed the American flag, and with much ado, allowed the Yankees to throw her out of camp for being a rebel sympathizer.

Pauline made her way south and soon found herself a welcome guest in Confederate territory. Southern officers escorted her from one camp to another as she searched for her long, lost brother and gathered all kinds of information. But then Pauline did what she was specifically told not to do. She made drawings of rebel defense works and stole a map from an officer’s desk. She hid the papers beneath the sole lining of her boot. As she absconded with her treasure, the map was missed, she was suspected and, before she got very far, she was apprehended. She managed to escape, but just before she was about to reach Union territory, she was recaptured and searched. The papers were found.

Pauline denied she was a spy, and used all her charms and acting skills on General Braxton Bragg during questioning, but he didn’t believe a word she said. She was tried and, for ten days, awaited the news of her fate. The stress was so bad, she began to get ill, and she used the real illness to make herself seem even worse.
Then the verdict came. She had been found guilty and would be hanged.

But this was the south, probably the last place on earth where chivalry existed. And strange as it seems to me, the Confederates were not willing to send her to the gallows. Not because she was a woman, but because she was a sick woman. As soon as she was recovered, she would be hanged posthaste.

Pauline continued to make her illness seem worse than it was and, fortunately, battle conditions forced the Confederates to move on. Nobody wanted to drag a sick prisoner along with them, so they left Pauline behind in the hands of a local doctor, with orders to hang her as soon as she recovered. Luckily, she was rescued by General William Rosecrans of the Union army. Pauline always believed the Confederate doctor had seen through her acting and said she was too sick to travel because he didn’t want to see her hang.

With her cover blown, Pauline was sent north where she was hailed as a hero. She was commended by President Lincoln and made an honorary major. But she was never the same again. It’s said she suffered from melancholy and would often break out in tears. Perhaps it was the trauma of having been so close to death, or the memories of the awful things she must have seen during the war. Maybe things happened to her as a spy that she never, ever talked about. Or perhaps it was that her children had died while she was away. (The number of children she had, and the years of their deaths vary, but it seems they died of diptheria.) Perhaps it was all of that together.

For a while, she traveled with P. T. Barnum. She dressed in uniforms both blue and gray, and told about her adventures. She married a second time and was a widow a year later, and then married a third time to Jeremiah Fryer, an Arizona sheriff. They adopted a daughter and kept a small hotel and livery stable, but eleven years later, the daughter had died and they were separated.

In the end, she lived in the corner of a seamtress’ shop where she did some sewing to earn her keep. She had developed rheumatism and was said to take opium to relieve the pain. On December 2, 1893, she was found dead by her landlady. She died from an overdose of opium. Some people say it was intentional.

It seemed everyone had forgotten Pauline Cushman. Everyone but the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic. They buried her in the Officers’ Circle at the Presidio National Cemetery in San Francisco with all the pomp and ceremony due a hero of war. Her gravestone reads Pauline C. Fryer, Union Spy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Subtext - What Your Characters Aren't Saying (at least not in so many words)

I have always thought of subtext as the invisible language of books. It’s there in every story you’ll ever read, and yet . . . it isn’t. Subtext is the things that are implied, the things that are felt, the things left unsaid and intentionally left out that are clearly recognized and understood by both characters and readers. It’s an eye roll, a tense silence, a bit of sarcasm, the rantings of a madman, or a lie. And even if you’re brand new to writing, if you’ve written any fiction at all you’ve probably used subtext in your work.

Subtext is like a secret code in which we impart information without saying a word, or by saying something totally opposite of what we mean. Even children are aware of subtext and learn to read it before they learn to read words. Picture books are filled with subtext, mostly in the illustrations. When a child opens a picture book, what do the bright colors say to him? What do the dark colors tell him? If characters are drawn in a cartoony style, a child can infer that the book will be funny. If the characters are more realistically drawn, they can tell the story will be more serious. A child who can’t read words can look at the two books below and immediately decide which will be the scariest because he can read the subtext - what the cover art is saying.

In novels, however, we don’t have illustrations to work with, so we include subtext in other ways, and we include it to show characterization, to add irony, to make a point, and to stress themes.

A character burps, and two other characters give each other a knowing look. The writer could follow the burp up with some whispered conversation between the two about how rude this kid is, but what’s the point? The knowing glance says it all. Mom tells Suzie, ‘No, you can’t go to the dance. You’re too young.’ Suzie roll hers eyes and stomps away. We can see she’s angry, imagine what she’s thinking, and infer that this is a family where talking back isn’t tolerated. And we learn a bit about each of the characters involved without the author saying it in words.

Sarcasm and lies are another way to add subtext. Two friends are going out on a first date with two guys they just met.

“So how do I look?” Betty asked, standing there in her baggy overalls and brown plaid lumberjack shirt. “Do you think Dan will like it?”

Laurie forced a smile and clutched the pearls hanging over her black cocktail dress. “Yeah,” she said. “He’ll love it. You look great.”

The reader knows Laurie’s remark is a lie and she just wants to spare her friend's feelings. It says something about who Laurie is, as well as her relationship with Betty. Now we’ll throw in some sarcasm.

“So how do I look?” Betty asked, standing there in her baggy overalls and brown plaid lumberjack shirt. “Do you think Dan will like it?”

Laurie smirked and twirled the pearls hanging over her black cocktail dress. “Yeah, if we were going to spend the night slopping the pigs.”

Again, Laurie isn’t saying what she means, but we know she thinks Betty should go and change, and the fact that she can say that to her friend infers a different kind of relationship than the first example, again, without the writer explaining their friendship. And now lets throw in some irony.

“So how do I look?” Betty asked, standing there in her baggy overalls and brown plaid lumberjack shirt. “Do you think Dan will like it?”

Laurie smirked and twirled the pearls hanging over her black cocktail dress. “Yeah, if we were going to spend the night slopping the pigs.”

“But we are. Kind of,” Betty said. “Didn’t Jack tell you? We’re going to the rodeo?”

Subtext can also be used to get the author’s point across, to create theme. At the end of Mockingjay, (spoiler coming for those who haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Skip this paragraph if you care.) Kat has spent three books learning how bad her government is, and in the end, is fighting with rebels to overthrow it. And they do. But that doesn’t end the story, because Kat has also learned things about the people who will run the new government, and in the end, she assassinates the new president. The pull of the bow, the release of the arrow - two small movements - get across the author’s subtext for ‘power corrupts,’ or ‘always question authority,’ or ‘don’t trust the government.’

However you take it (and that’s the beauty of a good book. It can say different things to different people, even things the author never intended) Collins gets her point across with that one action, rather than tacking on a didactic, moralistic ending that says - and this is the lesson, kiddies. She has done it subtly and with finesse through subtext, which also drives home the irony (another spoiler) that all Kat fought for through three books, all the death and suffering, didn’t mean a thing. In the end, they got the same old package with a new wrapping on it.

So the next time you’re reading a novel, take the time to listen for the subtext, or look for it in picture books. What are the author and the characters saying without actually saying it? Learn to pick it out and see how it works for the story you’re reading, then try it in your own work. As you use it more and more, you’ll see your word count suddenly start to go down, (because you’re not saying what you’re saying) and your novel will become sharper, richer, and have much more depth.

Speak No Evil - Art by elsma