Things Left Unsaid

In a recent post, Alexia G. Leeds brought up the question of writing style, specifically as it applies to the person(s) we are thinking about as our target audience.  Like Leeds, I struggle to find a balance between writing for myself and writing the kind of thing my spouse prefers.  In my case, however, this separation is a wider chasm (my wife generally dislikes speculative fiction), so it’s an easier decision for me: I write what I like, and am pleasantly surprised when she enjoys something I’ve written.

This particular decision meshes well with the seventh of Kurt Vonnegut’s eight tips on how to write a short story:

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

Reading these tips, I think Vonnegut was intentionally vague about who that “one person” had to be. Usually, I think it’s going to be the author, but I don’t think that’s essential. I could write for my wife, or to please an editor, or even focused on God Himself, and it would still work, as long as I’m willing to set aside my own desires while I write. Mostly, however, I find I’m more effective if I write what works for me, and then make allowances for the outside market during the editing process[1].

EH 7018PThough I have an decades of experience working at Vonnegut’s old stomping ground, I find myself more drawn to the works of Hemingway than Vonnegut, and I think Hemingway may be a good model to follow for my writing[2]. Specifically, I like his lean, understated prose. Hemingway always shows his conflicts instead of telling them, and while his characters’ motivations are clear, they remain mostly unwritten.

One of the best examples of this practice is The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.  Macomber’s wife despises her husband, and at the end, when Macomber finally overcomes his cowardice, she knows her hold on him is over.  Hemingway never says for certain whether the wife’s final action is intentional, and we are left to reason from the way the guide Wilson denies it that he knows there was no accident.  It was the words he never used that said the most.

I have heard from other writers that they tend to write huge volumes of text, then pare it down to expose the real story. I myself find, however, that my most recent stories have actually grown in length after being critiqued, because I found that some things left unsaid were not sufficiently clear.  All the same, this style of indirect prose — characters who say things to manipulate others, instead of what they really mean — feels more real to me, and seems to hold the tension in a scene better.

What happens in your writing process?

[1]Given my historical lack of sales, perhaps this method is not the right one.
[2]Assuming you ignore his alcoholism and suicidal tendencies.