Monday, April 16, 2007

Holding Back 90 Percent

So not long ago, I run into a former student, and by former I mean way former, from the first part of my teaching career, way back in the Sixties, before I was blacklisted and spent 20 years wandering in the wilderness. He tells me that I gave him one of the most valuable pieces of advice he ever received as a writer.

Oh? And what was it?

“Before you start writing, know everything, and then write ten percent of what you know.”

I said that?

Yep, and he’s never forgotten it.

Hmm, come to think of it, that is pretty good. Maybe I’ll start using it again.

So that brings us to the present, which is my Creative Writing class this semester, and the unit I do on subtext. Subtext is hard to teach, and my assignment -- to write a scene with subtext -- is pretty close to impossible. The good thing is, I know it, so I’m not really asking my students to do the impossible.

Here’s the assignment:

Write a scene between two characters, featuring dialog, in which the characters are talking about, or doing, anything you want them to be talking about or doing. But what underlies the scene -- which you know, but you don’t address directly -- is one of the following.

   At some point in the future, the characters will have sex with each other
   The characters will never have sex with each other, but one of them thinks they will.
    One character is going to betray the other.
    One character has already betrayed the other.

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