There are dozens of skills often seen as essential when it comes to writing. A lot of them are actually quite contentious. Being able to show through your writing rather than over-explain for instance. Exposition isn’t as frowned upon in literature as it is in film or TV, though it is often encouraged not to over-explain in writing.
However, easily one of the most argued skills is subtlety in storytelling. It’s an interesting one, because there are those who swear by subtlety being completely unnecessary in writing. So let’s discuss.
I think the thing people often immediately think of in regards to subtlety is horror. This is where it’s least contentious, and it’s where it’s most obvious to point out how it can be effective. Is it scary if you just show the monster right away? No. Is it scary to have ridiculous amounts of blood and gore? No. It even loses the disturbing edge and becomes comical before long if it’s done to a certain extent. No, subtlety is arguably the most important skill for a horror writer.
Knowing what to hold back is far more important than knowing what you should show. You’ll scare a reader a lot more by implying something horrific just out of sight, or something horrendous happening to a character. You won’t get the same response by overtly describing it.
This is all fairly agreed-upon stuff, though. Most people know this. Where it starts to get contentious is that it is entirely possible to follow these same steps for any kind of writing - and achieve the same result!
It’s always someone’s first instinct to over-explain graphic violence, or substance abuse, or intimate acts. It makes the story seem more mature to a beginner writer. However, the opposite ends up being the case. Approaching sensitive subjects especially tends to end up seeming juvenile when it’s all just laid out. Especially things like substance abuse and domestic violence.
So how can you fix this? How do you actually help writing seem more mature when tackling issues like these? It’s quite simple really. Imply. Substance abuse can destroy a person’s life. The effects are obvious, and disastrous. Imply the effects rather than detailing the substances or their habits. The effects they have on the character and those around them are the important thing for the story anyway, if you’re subtle enough about it, trust me. The reader’s imagination will do a far better job imagining what the character does in their free time than a writer could ever manage with a lengthy explanation.
Using subtlety is an imporant skill. Laying all of your cards out and over-explaining right off the bat leads to writing seeming juvenile, and makes a reader not really want to read further if they already know everything you know? Whereas if you hint at things. If you imply that there’s more going on, a reader will be hooked. Their imagination will be fired up and working overdrive. They’ll be engaged.
So what do you think? Do you disagree with my assessment?
If so, why? Let’s discuss!