Deeper into the Inferential Layer of the Word-Pond #amwriting

For the last two weeks, we have discussed how, in the word-pond that we call Story, below the surface is the wide layer of unknown quantity: the Inferential Layer.

But as we go deeper, we discover the vast expanse of words is comprised of many smaller, less obvious layers of varying temperatures and clarity.

We sink past the sharks of Emotion and the intangibles of Atmosphere and Mood. There we discover a murky layer where the visibility goes away, and it’s difficult to find your way. Deeper down, below the slightly too-warm danger zone of mawkish show-don’t-tell, lies the cold, silty layer where Inference and Implication come into play.

Consider the oft repeated mantra of Chekhov’s Gun:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” [1]

In this dark, eerie layer, we show why Chekhov’s gun is on the wall through the actions of our characters. We imply reasons to show why the weapon was fired. We offer ideas to explain how the shooter comes to the place in the story where they took the gun from the wall and squeezed the trigger.

But we don’t baldly state in chapter one that “Bob was a jealous bastard.” We slowly dole out these implications in Bob’s conversations and mental dialogue. We show the visuals of his demeanor and his actions, and let the reader draw their own conclusions.

In the best stories, the path to the moment the gun was fired is complicated. Perhaps no one knows exactly what led to it. As the author, your task is to fill the middle of this story-pond with clues: broad hints and allegations. This is where Inference and Implication come into play, the two aspects of Story that give the inferential layer its name.

You can only infer something from clues offered to you. The author presents clues, and you interpret the meaning.

You can only imply something to someone. In our case, we are offering clues to the reader.

One meaning is displayed on the surface, but deeper down, you enclose the true meaning, a secret folded within the story.

For example, take an envelope and write the word “murder” on it. This is the inciting incident, the engine that drives the story. It is clear and obvious, as dead bodies always are.

Then write one word, “obsession,” on a  note. Place the note inside the envelope and seal it. Leave that note laying around for our reader, who is the sleuth, to discover. The Envelope is the story arc that encompasses the note, which is the “why” of the narrative.

That is how we convey meaning. The message (inference) is inside the envelope (story) that is gradually revealed to the reader. In reading the inferential layer of the story, they open the envelope and draw out the note, and with each clue, they deduce the meaning of what is about to happen.

The layer of implication must be done well and deftly because you want the reader to feel as if they have earned the information they are gaining. Yet, you must leave enough clues lying around that they can understand what you are implying. Readers can only extrapolate knowledge from information the author has offered them.

This is where those sharks of show-don’t-tell still lurk, waiting to make a mockery of your narrative.

Balance is crucial. Our story is like the seesaw on the playground. “Tell” is the older, heavier child—it carries a lot of weight in comparison to “Show,” that slender young visual descriptor.

If we “tell” a little and “show” a lot, we’ll keep the seesaw of the narrative balanced.

We employ this balance because we must offer the reader the framework to hang their imagination on. Making strong word choices is the key to maintaining this good balance. Lean, hard verbs and nouns that begin with consonants convey impact and lead the reader in the direction you want them to go.

On a subconscious level, serious readers want to discover something that isn’t obvious at the surface. The feeling of triumph for having caught the deeper meaning keeps them immersed in the book. It’s a surge of endorphins that makes them want more of your work.

I concede that in most Romance novels, the point of the book isn’t a deeper meaning—it’s interpersonal relationships on a surface level. However, the surge of endorphins is there with the successful completion of the star-crossed love-quest. Each of the two characters will have some air of mystery about them because the interpersonal intrigues are the story, and readers love to discover secrets.

Books for younger readers might also be less deep on this level because they don’t yet have the real-world experience to understand what is implied. The level of language must be a little more direct than in books meant for adults.

This middle layer is difficult to get a grip on. Knowledge of the craft of writing is important. How you use grammar, the tense (first person, third person, etc.) in which the piece is written, length and structure of sentences, word choices, metaphors and allegories—these aspects of an author’s voice also contribute to the feeling of depth.

And underlying all of this is the bottom layer—the Interpretive Layer. Everything thing you throw into a pond finds its way to the bottom. The things we met and passed on the way down are there:

  • Themes
  • Commentary
  • Messages
  • Symbolism

When all else fails, gravity still works.

Gravity pulls everything down to the bottom adding to the mud that eventually becomes the bedrock of our story. Everything that that drifts to the bottom becomes lodged in the soft mud along with

  • Archetypes

We haven’t discussed this aspect of the pond, but Archetypes are up next.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Chekhov’s gun,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chekhov%27s_gun&oldid=902300179  (accessed July 21, 2019).

Skagit River Mist/PFly CC-BY-SA-2.0

Sunset view from the back of the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, photo by Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 4.0.

 

10 Comments

Filed under writing

10 responses to “Deeper into the Inferential Layer of the Word-Pond #amwriting

  1. This layer can be a lot of fun to write, but in my experience it works best if not forced. Sometimes it’s a surprise to the writer. Your excellent post also shows just why it’s not possible to write simply by following rules. A lot of it is instinctive and done by “feel,” which makes for self-doubt on the writer’s part.

    Liked by 1 person

    • SO true! Writing is definitely not a “by-the-numbers” kind of thing. The surprises are the best part of writing, but those are the truths that emerge from my subconscious–they were there all along, but like my glasses pushed up on my forehead, I couldn’t find them no matter where I looked, lol!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. SatyaPriya

    I am absolutely from the ‘show, don’t tell’ school of writing, yet when I read Tanith Lee, and Joanne Harris, I’m struck that they often simply tell the reader what the character is all about. I’ve noticed Harris jumping from POV to POV, too, often within the same paragraph. It’s maddening, especially if I’m listening via audiobook. How do they get away with it? They weren’t always ‘Tanith Lee’ and ‘Joanne Harris’?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those two authors began writing in a time before people began making rigid writing-group rules based on edicts handed down by Elmore Leonard, rest his soul. People tend to lean too hard one way or the other. Tanith Lee was, and Joanne Harris is, brilliant and their work earned them many fans. Tanith Lee’s later work evolved more toward the leaner style, but they still had a more old-style approach. Joanne Harris’s work is more of literary-fantasy bent, as is that of Neil Gaiman. Literary prose is lean and direct but not stripped to the bare bones. Perhaps you just don’t really enjoy that style of writing–our tastes evolve. I prefer a balanced prose.

      Like

      • SatyaPriya

        Funny thing is, I enjoy both writers, and I think that’s the ‘writing just is’ side of me, whereas the persnickety Ms Wimple Critic wants to snark on about ‘they are TELLING’ and ‘oh look, lazy writing’. I love gradual unfolding, but sometimes in a racing story, there just isn’t the effing time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s the secret poet in your soul, rebelling!

        Like

  3. Pingback: Seven Links 7/27/19 Traci Kenworth – Where Genres Collide Traci Kenworth YA Author & Book Blogger