The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot

Charles Baxter inaugurates The Art of, a new series on the craft of writing, with the wit and intelligence he brought to his celebrated book Burning Down the House Essays on Fiction.Fiction writer and essayist Charles Baxter s The Art of Subtext Beyond Plot discusses and illustrates the hidden subtextual overtones and undertones in fictional works haunted by the unspokenCharles Baxter inaugurates The Art of, a new series on the craft of writing, with the wit and intelligence he brought to his celebrated book Burning Down the House Essays on Fiction.Fiction writer and essayist Charles Baxter s The Art of Subtext Beyond Plot discusses and illustrates the hidden subtextual overtones and undertones in fictional works haunted by the unspoken, the suppressed, and the secreted Using an array of examples from Melville and Dostoyevsky to contemporary writers Paula Fox, Edward P Jones, and Lorrie Moore, Baxter explains how fiction writers create those visible and invisible details, how what is displayed evokes what is not displayed.The Art of Subtext is part of The Art of series, a new line of books by important authors on the craft of writing, edited by Charles Baxter Each book examines a singular, but often assumed or neglected, issue facing the contemporary writer of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry The Art of series means to restore the art of criticism while illuminating the art of writing.
The Art of Subtext Beyond Plot Charles Baxter inaugurates The Art of a new series on the craft of writing with the wit and intelligence he brought to his celebrated book Burning Down the House Essays on Fiction Fiction writer and

  • Title: The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot
  • Author: Charles Baxter
  • ISBN: 9781555974732
  • Page: 359
  • Format: Paperback
  • 1 thought on “The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot”

    1. Nonfiction for the writer and intended to help develop a deeper, more interesting plot.My TakeThis was too subtle for me. I picked up a few useful bits here and there, but for the most part, I was just confused.The first chapter was good, and I got all excited with the promise of what I thought was ahead. ".e an interior space, using details of location and objects that mirror a psychological condition."I love this idea and had never consciously considered it even as I subconsciously appreciated [...]

    2. Self-Consciously LiterateThis book is the opposite of Linda Seger's book on subtext. Where Seger's book is practical in focus and useful writers who want to enhance their skill at weaving subtext into their stories, Baxter's book is theoretical and more an exercise in analyzing subtext in literary fiction.Writers who are looking for practical advice they can use to elevate their stories will almost certainly be disappointed. This is a book aimed almost exclusively at reading well well and not on [...]

    3. Some very good insights; especially appreciated illuminating conceptualization of relationship between plot and subtext. Would be four-stars if not so scattered at times. Agree with other reviewer that this is more of a reader's guide than a writer's how-to.

    4. I read this book in two sittings, and found it absorbing and thoughtful. I had hoped it would make me gasp with recognition a little more, that it would give me some new ways of thinking about fiction, but instead it articulated nicely my own thoughts on fiction writing. I'm teaching excerpts to my next class of short story writing students, and I look forward to re-reading, discussing and expanding on Baxter's ideas with the group. Onto Joan Silber's book in this "Art of" series. Can't wait!

    5. Well worth the read. The final chapter on faces was frustratingly illogical, as Baxter basically makes the broad and unsupported claim that faces are no longer portrayed in fiction, and then proceeds to undermine that claim by providing numerous contrary examples. Still, the book as a whole is a useful and provocative addition to the fiction writer's craft library.

    6. A whole lot of "kids these days" sermonizing with an argument too, uh, subtextual to hang a book on.

    7. I resist reading other reviews before I write my own, mostly because when they say something I'm in agreement with, I feel obliged to say it differently, and I thus end up being unclear. But after finishing Baxter's The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot, I found myself a little underwhelmed and lacked the words to describe just why. But I came across another review that said basically what I was looking to say, only more eloquently than I am capable: Baxter's suggestions on how to write subtext are, w [...]

    8. This is a really fascinating little book. As a writer I was glad I stumbled on it. It's one thing to know that you need to put subtext in your plays, but it's more difficult to actually do it. I love his big questions and wandering, philosophical mind too.

    9. I've read this three or four times in its entirety. A brief, highly concentrated, and extremely helpful book that reveals the techniques great literary writers use to imply rather than state outright the deeper meanings of a narrative.

    10. A great book for both reading and writing in the realist tradition. A stifling and tangential book (on some topics) for all others. Baxter's interests here should help portraitists ("realists") to understand their art much, much better, by focusing on some basic but subtle (and typically infuriating) problems of portraying emotion without melodrama, and of "bringing characters to life." "Young writers tend to hate the whole idea of plot." This sentence bothered me, as a young writer who hates th [...]

    11. Baxter's slender, ruminative book explores how writers can use staging and "micro-detailing" to shed light on the inner-lives of characters and create scenes that will resonate in a reader's imagination."What if wishes and fantasies turn out in some cases to be more powerful than their real life satisfactions?" Such questions, illuminated by cogent examples, will make any writer think about their own stories.The Art of Subtext includes an extended, poignant scene from Minnesotan J.F. Powers and [...]

    12. This book is definitely longer than 120 pagesI found this book easy to read, but sometimes difficult to understand. The point that Baxter makes in the beginning is that it is difficult to explain subtext. Sometimes I think he spent a lot of time showing examples, but not enough time explaining the subtext behind them and how he deconstructed the way the subtext was revealed. Usually I am fine with just examples, but I found it hard to follow some of his thoughts from time to time.Overall, I thin [...]

    13. Read for a class. This book explored the use of subtext of various types in writing fiction. Mostly successful.

    14. The Art Of Subtext: Beyond plot In Charles Baxtor’s book The Art Of Subtext: Beyond Plot how does the technique of staging and subtext allows the unspoken and unseen to be revealed.Baxtors unveils the techniques necessary for a writer to see the process of subtext as a set of details that allow the reader to form an idea that there is more to the characters actions than what he first sees. First the author uses examples of novels that reveal characters through dramatic placement called (the ar [...]

    15. Subtext is hard to write because you don’t write it. You set it up and let it show, but it remains unstated. When done effectively, the reader has a sense of discovery far more clear than if the message were stated starkly.Subtext is mainly found in literary writing. Genre writing tends to state and describe everything, even the obvious. A lot of people like that, and there’s nothing wrong with it. I used to enjoy it, before I started reading literary fiction. I am now incapable of going bac [...]

    16. What a complicated topic to take on. Writing about the art of subtext is probably a little like trying to catch the tail of a passing cloud: hard to grasp and just when you think you’ve got it, something as slight as a gentle breeze pushes it out of reach. Subtext, to me, is the river of meaning running beneath a scene. It’s when two characters do something or say one thing, but they actually mean something much deeper and often much weightier. Baxter’s book is not a manual and I found my [...]

    17. SubtextVery nice introduction and explanation of the idea and practice of the art of subtext in narratives. Author has an app for and friendly tone. I enjoyed the clear instruction on how to spot it in stories as well as some ideas on how one might about creating depth when writing. The examples given ranged from authors such as Dostoevsky, Fitzgerald, and Lorrie Moore, to name a few.

    18. I expected a very practical 'do this' book, but got a bunch of deep essays about the uses of fiction and the responsibility of the writer. Which was hard work, but rewarding and thought-provoking. So yay.

    19. Very useful for writers, and illuminating for readers too. The artistry of fiction, made manifest. Easy, engaging and quick to read, yet will serve as a reference for writing projects (sticky notes, everywhere!)

    20. The chapters made a good sequencing, but in terms of a Baxter writing I prefer BDtH more for being more craft-focused and less of a literary analysis.

    21. Would have liked it to be more specific, but considering the topic, I suppose that it couldn't get too specific. There were some good chapters and some bad.

    22. Particularly noteable, by my reading, for the sections on staging, making a scene, and faces. The six pages on Dostoyevsky were a revelation.

    23. Learned a lot, some stuck with me, some felt like learning but read like words. 7/10, a good guide to have around, another successful Graywolf sect.

    24. This is one book in a series about the art of writing (some of the others include commentary on poetry). Charles Baxter's book is a collection of essays all dealing with the same subject. Although I understood the point of each essay, it would be difficult to summarize them as a whole, hence I'll provide a brief summary of each.The Art of Staging is more than simply about setting but how setting and positioning of characters leads to the what is going on underneath the action. Although there may [...]

    25. This is a book full of passion for art and language. As someone who hasn't formally studied literature, The Art of Subtext gave me a wonderful new way to think about my reading and writing.While as far from a how-to guide or writing manual as possible and still be a book on writing, I suspect that this book will impact my writing more than most of the writing manuals I've read. Baxter's prose is engaging and his opinions are unflinching (if occasionally stodgy or nostalgic). I find it difficult [...]

    26. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I couldn't put it down (until I was waylaid with an unfortunate bout of the flu). Baxter's The Art of Subtext is a short, engaging collection of essays about the different means of employing subtext in a novel. It contains much less instruction on actually creating subtext, which I think is where most readers will find fault with it, but if it is looked at more as a means of insight and inspiration, I think this can be forgiven. In the first few c [...]

    27. This book is a set of six essays, two of which have been previously published. You'll know which without looking because of the Hollywood style scene bookending. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed each foray into an aspect of subtext and its whirlwind pass through the associated highlights of any college literary program's reading list. In fact, some are mentioned in name only as it is assumed the reader has encountered each piece before and is familiar with the author, the piece itself, and [...]

    28. This book does a good job of highlighting some key elements of fiction writing: staging, silence, inflection, scenes and faces. Baxter uses concrete examples to illustrate his points on each. His writing is light but manages to convey rich lessons on storytelling. He focuses mainly on characters it seems, analyzing in fine-grain detail the areas where authors make them perform. His notes on dialogue are particularly helpful. However in much of this book he surveys the literature and doesn’t of [...]

    29. Well worth the read for the recommended readings alone. Baxter got me really excited with a very deep discussion of subtlety in prose and got me thinking about going beyond micro-fiction, just to explore what a longer form might allow me to write.The one drawback of this book is that if you're hoping to pick up writing skills targeted towards subtext, you are not likely to find helpful advice here. It is, at its core, a philosophical/meta-discussion about the finished product, serving both as a [...]

    30. One of my favorite go-to books on the craft of writing. This is a book for advanced writers, working beyond the general areas of plot, character, narrative, and point of view, seeking a nuanced look at what makes fiction resonate. These essays compliment each other nicely, and Baxter's humor, insight, and examples are terrific. My copy of this book is heavily underlined and annotated; the chapters on staging the scene and describing faces are particularly powerful and useful. Highly recommend th [...]

    31. Though there are passages where this slim, college-lecture-style volume turns facile or tiresome, novelist Baxter's analysis of "the implied, the half-visible, and the unspoken" in literature is saved from irrelevance by a keen sense of pacing and a healthy dose of self-awareness (after confidently zooming through seminal works by Herman Melville, John Cheever, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Baxter confesses, "I feel that I am on the verge of what Walt Whitman calls 'a usual mistake.' I don't wish to [...]

    32. Baxter draws on more than 40 literary works to explain the art of subtext. Never veering into the self-help flavored category of books on writing, he dissects effective stories and shows us how they work.Baxter writes with a compelling religious fervor. He says the writer must believe her story; she can't be "agnostic about it" (96). He talks about character development in terms of the soul.My favorite chapter is "Creating A Scene." Characters need to makes scenes. They can't be well behaved all [...]

    33. I love this book, especially the chapter Unheard Melodies. He gives a breakdown of how we've lost the skills to pay attention to one another in a way that I identified with, regretfully. He points out how contemporary fiction writers like Lorrie Moore use this in their writing. How popular shows like Steinfield and Sex in the City are comprised of parallel dialogues rather than cross communication. Maybe I'm alone in having not noticed this. But he is blatant in his assessment and I am grateful. [...]

    34. I was initially going to give this 2 stars, because while the ideas in this book are quite sound the presentation comes across as overly formal and thus oversimplfied, which is my reaction sometimes to the Baxter books I liked less, but the next to last chapter, "Creating a Scene," bumped this book up a star all by itself. If you get a hold of this book, THIS chapter is really the one to study. Overall, a lot of Baxter's closely studied examples are less than convincing if I hadn't already read [...]

    35. Some unusual circumstances surrounding my reading this book. After a few false starts I started reading in the middle and was hooked right away and then looped around to the beginning again. Since the chapters are freestanding essays are various aspects of subplot, this worked fine. But it made me look at the introduction a bit suspiciously as I think it overpromises (as do many books about writing).Also, I happened to read this book while reading Chris Baty's No Plot, No Problem which I kept wi [...]

    36. Deeper than meAs a writer, I am always looking for books on craft in an attempt to hone my own techniques of craft. The Art of Subtext sounded intriguing. Subtext has always been an anomaly to me, something I assumed came during literary reviews and analysis, not for the author directly but, rather, from the reader and his or her own baggage.Baxter has proven to me the author does have some responsibility in adding subtext of his own through dialogue, gesture, and facial expressions. That said, [...]

    37. This is the best book about writing that I have read in years, and maybe one of the best ever. Why? Because Baxter understands the underlying elements that fiction needs to come alive. There are spiritual aspects to understanding these elements, and Baxter doesn't forget those either. Much of what he says is of value in human relations if you never write another word.

    38. An MFA degree in a book! Although I wonder how much of this I would have been able to absorb and understand as a beginning writer without the last two years spent learning it. It sometimes takes Baxter a while to get to his point, and I find reading books about books I haven't read super frustrating, so it might not have been as helpful without the primer of a graduate degree in this stuff.

    39. This book was, itself, all about showing instead of telling, and sometimes I wanted to have a little more telling going on (I was looking for more of a how-to guide)--on the other hand, what I teased out felt like it had enormous depth, so there's that. I'll probably dig through this several more times.

    40. An excellent collection of essays on the use of subtext in fiction. I learned a lot from reading this book, but I think it will be one that I will read again in a few years. There's a lot of wisdom in here. Some of the essays were more helpful than others.

    41. Subtext is a hard topic to deal with, and Baxter does a decent job of it. However, although there are some good insights, Baxter comes off as overly pretentious and at times his examples are incredibly discursive. The goal of a book like this should be to make a difficult topic assume greater clarity, rather than ramp up the obfuscation. On a related note, WTH is it with people on books about writing dissecting the crap out of the most esoteric examples they can find? These can still be useful, [...]

    42. A tricky job, talking about what isn't there. My favorite section was on characters being unable to hear what is being said. Obviously, I mean, by definition, there is a lot of irony in all of the contrast between what is said and what is really going on and I think badly done irony is one of those things that brings on crises of toxic self-consciousness for me so I was unable to hear good chunks of what I read on the first reading because I kept looking for counterexamples. Fortunately reading [...]

    43. A fine tour of the art of subtext, which makes a story memorable. Impressive how a small book displays such a wealth of information, genres, styles and authors as examples of the art.

    44. These essays explore how a writer creates connections between characters’ outward movements and inner lives, by paying close attention to gestures and speech, objects and actions. Baxter demonstrates how to show the differences between characters’ stated desires and their true feelings. He points out how what is unheard and unspoken in a scene can be more revealing than what is actually expressed. He also examines at length the “problem of the face” in a culture of mass reproduction, arg [...]

    45. If I am counting correctly, I have now completed all of Graywolf Press' "The Art of . . ." series, and it has been a fruitful and meaningful journey. Charles Baxter does a wonderful job, in this volume, at looking at how novelists and historians tell our story, on both large and small stages. As with most all of the books in this series, the examples are thoughtfully chosen and the lessons well presented.

    46. Another book I will refer to often for my own writing. Kamenetz skillfully shows writers how to enhance a story with subtext - the words that aren't written.

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