Time for some writing advice – let’s talk adding subtext, emotions, and sensory descriptions. I got some feedback from a rejection notice this week that I found incredibly helpful – let’s talk about adding subtext, emotions, and sensory descriptions to writing. Now first, it’s time to confess something – this is probably the best I’ve ever done at receiving feedback on my writing. In times past, I’ve reacted defensively, argued with feedback instead of assimilating it. I’m actually happy with how well I’m handling this rejection and am reflecting on the work I’ve done (Please see Survival Guide for Creative People) on managing my emotions and utilizing constructive criticism. Yay, me!
So, like Apollo 13 – I’m a ‘successful failure.’ People aren’t willing to champion my project yet, but they’re willing to tell me what I’d need to do to make it better. Before, I’d take exception to what these folks told me for my own co-dependent reasons but now I can see that feedback for the gift that it is. This agency did me a huge favor by telling me something no one else will care enough to say: the book isn’t ready for its readers yet. Thank goodness I’m hearing that now, and not after the book had gone to press.
Now it’s time to tell you what the anonymous agency had to say: “Even though we loved the intriguing concept of this story and admired your attempt to blend exciting sci-fi elements with the day-to-day struggles of a middle schooler, the narrative fell heavy on dialogue at times, leaving us craving more sensory descriptions, subtext, and emotions from the characters.”
Yeah, lot to unpack there. A world-famous lit agent with connections to successful novels and movies liked what Mike.Sierra.Echo was all about. That’s great news for all of us! Mike.Sierra.Echo has something to love and readers connect with the concept and the struggles of middle school. Cool! That’s a nugget we can all enjoy later, like an after-dinner mint, as the sun goes down on a fall afternoon.
However, the biggest part of this is what they felt Mike.Sierra.Echo needs to get better at. It needs some more polish, particularly in these three areas: adding subtext, emotions, and sensory descriptions. I’m going to do some research with you here on how those three things work for a story and then we’ll talk about what happens next for MSE.
“Okay, thanks for the writing advice, but what does adding subtext, emotions, and sensory descriptions mean?” Here’s what we’re talking about: Subtext in middle-grade fiction is the underlying or implied meaning that often conveys deeper themes, emotions, or messages beyond what is explicitly stated in the text. Emotions are about creating an emotional connection for readers by immersing them in real time in the character’s emotional journey. Sensory descriptions
Writing Subtext in Your Stories
This blog post is meant as a help for me as much as it is for you. As Richard Feynman is famous for saying – ‘If you can’t explain something to a [beginner], then you haven’t really understood.’ When I read that I should have more subtext in MSE, my first question was ‘what does that mean?’
Subtext is the implicit meaning of a text—the underlying message that is not explicitly stated or shown. What’s the underlying message of MSE? Am I communicating that sufficiently through the narrative? Obviously if I’m being told I’m not by a lit agent, then I’m not! This is an opportunity for me to go back through the draft with the ‘subtext’ lens and see where I can make changes and enhancements. But if you want to learn more about subtext, here are …
Helpful Subtext Resources
- 7 Tips for Adding Subtext to Your Writing
- 7 Simple Techniques to Supercharge Your Scenes
- How Subtext Helps Storytelling
- Creating Setting and Subtext in Your Fiction
Adding Sensory Descriptions To Your Stories
“Good writing activates all your senses,” my first ‘sensory descriptions’ resource says “like a warm loaf of freshly baked bread brings memories, feelings and thoughts alive. A strong written description activates your ears, eyes, nose, fingers, even your taste buds!”
Um, okay – good, I guess? How do you make sure your draft activates the senses? What if you use too many and it overwhelms people? “Don’t be too timid or squeamish about your writing – or about using sensory details,” my resource continues. “Put in too much color, too many sounds, too much drama, too many adjectives and adverbs. Use all five senses in your writing. You can always edit them out later.”
Okay, fair point. Let’s go back over the draft with the ‘Sensory Descriptions’ lens. Meantime, here are some more …
Helpful Sensory Descriptions Resources
- Sensory Details to Fire Up Your Writing
- How to Use the Five Senses in Your Writing
- Expert Tips on Writing Sensory Details in Setting & Description
Adding Emotions To Your Stories
This one was interesting to me because whenever I’m writing something, I want to let people fill in the blanks with their own perceptions. Bob Ross and Tenent teach us that lesson and I try to do the same.
BUUUTT, if I’m being honest, that’s just a personal style thing and I’m not married to it. If professional publishing people are telling me ‘more emotion, please,’ then my job is to say ‘Yes, I’m getting right on that.’ Doesn’t hurt to make people feel valued for offering constructive feedback. I’ll be using the following …
Helpful Emotional Descriptions Resources
- Emotions In Writing: How To Make Your Readers Feel
- A Writer’s Guide to Evoking Strong Feelings in Your Readers
- What Is Emotional Context And Why Does Your Story Need It?
To figure out how to do that correctly. Then it’s off to draft 2.4 of Mike.Sierra.Echo to look for opportunities to add emotion.
I know it might seem like a bummer, adding subtext, emotions, and sensory descriptions to writing. Like the beautiful art glass above, we can’t afford to be ‘one and done’ with our work, especially if someone tells us ‘This isn’t good enough, yet.’ It’s the happy side of a bad relationship where somebody tells you ‘I’m not giving up, yet.’ The ‘yet’ is all you hear. They’re willing to talk to you – they’re willing to give you constructive feedback. Those are good things!
I’m going back to the drafting/editing process with Mike.Sierra.Echo and I welcome you to watch how I do with the next steps.