Monday, October 19, 2015

The Art of Subtlety

Katie Clark started reading fantastical stories in grade school and her love for books never died. Today she reads in all genres; her only requirement is an awesome story! She writes young adult speculative fiction, including her upcoming YA supernatural, Shadowed Eden. You can connect with her at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Subtle: (adj.) fine or delicate in meaning or intent
One of the first hard lessons many writers face is that of not being too preachy. Don’t harp against mean girls. Don’t bash us over the head with the virtues of being kind. And in a children’s book, for heaven’s sake, please don’t have a well-meaning grown up tell the main character how important it is for children to obey their parents!
In other words, we as writers must learn to be more subtle in our messages. We need to draw them out delicately. Finely. Letting our meaning or intent speak quietly and naturally throughout the happenings of the story.
Think it’s easy? Think again. While I’ve been criticized by a small handful of readers for being too preachy in my YA dystopian trilogy, The Enslaved Series, the majority of readers have seemed satisfied with my handling of the messages throughout the books. This pleases me to no end, but I never really set out to make it that way. This got me to thinking. How did I accomplish whatever level of subtlety I pulled off? I boiled it down to a couple different areas, and with any luck they can help you be more subtle, too.
Utilize the spiritual journey. 
Many writers are aware that our characters need an inner journey as well as an outer journey. However, just as important is the spiritual journey, or the emotional journey. In Shadowed Eden, my upcoming YA supernatural novel, my main character Avery has the outer journey of escaping a strange garden oasis. She has the inner journey of proving to her peers and to herself that she isn’t worthless. But she also has the spiritual journey of learning for herself what it means to be there for others, as others had been there for her all along. This was key to the spiritual journey of the book, which grew naturally out of the circumstances surrounding the other two plot points. If you can pinpoint your characters’ inner and outer journeys, you can create a natural spiritual journey that evolves from these.
Learn from the mystery genre. 
In a mystery we must follow the clues. They don’t bash us over the head. If they did, we would solve the mystery too soon and put the book down. If you bash your readers over the head with your moral truths, they too will put the book down. Our moral clues must be subtle in that they come sparingly and cleverly, at just the right moment. Then, sometime near the climax, all the clues come together and your characters will fully realize the moral truths you have weaved into your story.
Keep up the tension; keep up the pace. 
In one of the early drafts of Vanquished, book one in my dystopian trilogy, I had an entire scene devoted to “the moral” of my story. One of my beta readers told me I had a great pace going…until I got to that particular scene. She pointed out that the tension fled. The pace slowed to a crawl. Basically, she wanted to skip the entire scene. No! This isn’t what we want at all, right?! I had to go back to the drawing board for that scene. I broke it up so that other tension-filled moments were happening throughout the scene. I had to use short, snappy sentences. I needed to keep up the tension, and keep up the pace. In the end, that scene came out a bit shorter but a lot better.
When push comes to shove, you must choose how subtle (or not) you wish to be with any given message. But we all know the old saying, “Less is more.” Keeping these areas in mind will surely help you when pruning your manuscript to perfection.
Now it’s your turn! Do you prefer your stories a little on the obvious side, or do you like your fiction with a slice of subtlety?

About Shadowed Eden:

High school senior, Avery Miles, is attending one last mission trip with the church youth before she moves across country to attend college in the fall. The trip through Iraq takes a wrong turn when the sandstorm of the century hits the area and blows the group’s entourage off course. After the dust settles, they find themselves in an unimaginable and inexplicable garden oasis. Along with an abundant supply of luscious fruit and crystal clear springs, the mysterious garden is home to poisonous snakes, hidden sink holes, and a lingering confusion that no one can shake—not to mention the natives, who are almost unearthly. 
As the days progress, the group begins to realize they have a very real problem—no matter which way they trek, they can’t seem to leave. Avery puts the clues together and begins to suspect their location is much more than a simple garden oasis, but just as a rescue plan forms, Avery discovers her father is working with a more sinister presence, one that wants to keep them trapped permanently. 

Watch the book trailer here!


  1. I love the suggestion of keeping up the tension. Thanks for stopping by GTW!

    1. Yes, tension is always super important! :) And I am so glad to be here.

  2. I definitely enjoy subtlety, and try to incorporate it into my stories. Great post!

    PS - Your book sounds really cool :)

    1. I love subtlety as well. Some authors do it so well, and I'm always learning more as I read. And if you read it, I hope you like it!

  3. Your book sounds super cool! I can't wait for it to come out so I can read it!

    -Grace (

  4. I love your title! Interesting concepts as well!
    I've never liked having a message bashed over my head, and I've never had the urge to shove my beliefs down other people's throats in fiction. Maybe it's because I've learned to accept how much of the big picture I'm probably missing, or because I just dislike having it done to myself. I prefer actual introspection and stimulation to "preaching" anyway. I have a terrible time finding introspection in most books with any kind of message.
    In my own WIP, I explore 'loyalty' from the perception of multiple POVs, the most interesting being my anti-hero assassin known for betraying everyone she comes in contact with.

  5. I definitely like my stories with a slice of subtlety. I find myself always thinking of how authors of some of my favorite books put in their themes and morals in such an almost nonchalant way. Their theme just burst forth from the story not because it was being preached to me.
    Although while I love reading stories with subtlety, I have a very difficult time writing subtlety, so thank you so much for these tips! I can't wait to try them! I especially like the one of learning from the mystery genres. That is such a great idea giving hints and clues here and there!
    Thank you!

    1. It can definitely be difficult. Practice makes perfect :).

  6. Hopefully this book will become a bestseller that has a lot of fans ...

  7. The first tip I find particularly helpful. I can definitely add a bit of spiritiual journey in my story :) thanks for that!

    Your book seems interesting! I'll definitely look out for it :)

    1. Adding a spiritual journey to the book can really take a story to the next level :).

  8. Great tips! I especially like the one about learning from the mystery genre. I'd never really thought about how the two would relate, but it's true: if the clues were too obvious we'd put the book down. If the morals too obvious, others readers will do the same.

    Thanks for stopping by GTW! And thanks for the awesome post! :D