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Saying the Unsayable: Building Meaning and Resonance Through Subtext

Instructor:  Donna Glee Williams
Level:  Intermediate to Advanced
Class Times:  There will be three live class meetings.
Thursday, January 4, 2018,
Thursday, January 18, 2018, and
Thursday, February 1, 2018

7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  Friday, December 8, 2017
Tuition:  $239.00

For a description of the class, its assignments, requirements, schedule, and a biography of the instructor, see below.

To apply, click here. Note: If you wish to apply for more than one class, you must apply for each class with a separate application.

For more information on Odyssey's Online Classes, click here.

Saying the Unsayable: Building Meaning and Resonance Through Subtext


Course Description:
Writers take great care in crafting the words they put on the page, the text of their stories. But readers often respond most strongly to what is not on the page, elements that are implied, evoked, suggested--the subtext. Subtext can include words not spoken, emotions not expressed, thoughts repressed, dangers looming, conflicts below the surface. To write a powerful story with meaning and resonance, authors must be able to consciously sculpt that second layer of meaning, the meaning below the surface of the words. This second layer allows readers to actively participate in the story: to engage, to feel, and to discover meaning. That is why implying something often has a much greater impact on the reader than stating it.

This course will explore how subtext can be generated in dialogue, thought, description, exposition, and almost any part of a story, creating a richer and more powerful reading experience. To do this, we'll explore various strategies that humans employ to communicate beneath the surface of words. We'll focus on three key strategies: entailment, presupposition, and implicature. Students will study sample texts from literature, their own writing, and the writing of classmates. Our goal will be to master a few concepts so deeply that they will percolate down into our unconscious writing process and we can forget about them.

Students will find and analyze examples of effective and problematic subtext, study works to find and identify different types of subtext, practice various techniques for embedding subtext in fiction, and write or revise scenes that use subtext. Students will also provide critiques on their classmates' work.

Students must be eager to hear about the weaknesses in their writing and to work to strengthen them. Students must also be eager to give feedback to their classmates that is both truthful and helpful.

Our goal as a class is to provide a supportive yet challenging, energizing environment that will help students improve their writing.

Each student will have a private meeting with Donna Glee.

The course is intended for writers of fantastic fiction, an umbrella term encompassing fantasy, science fiction, horror, magical realism, and anything in between. Yet subtext is important in all fiction writing, so fiction writers who focus on other genres can profit from this class and will be welcome.

The class will cover how to use these techniques in middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction.

The course will be most valuable for intermediate or advanced students, since it will assume students already understand the basics of fiction writing.

Students will be required to complete several readings before the course begins. Readings will be made available electronically. One or two short readings may be distributed after the course begins.

Students will have some homework assigned before the first meeting, and will also be assigned homework during the course.

The first assignment will have a due date of January 3, the day before our initial meeting.

Homework will be assigned on January 4 and January 18, with due dates, respectively, of January 10 and January 24. You will also be required to provide critiques of some of your classmates' work, which will be due on January 17 and 31. Any student who misses a deadline may be expelled from the class and will receive no refund.

All assignments should be in standard manuscript format and should be submitted as MS Word files or rich text files.

You should reserve a minimum of 5 hours to complete each homework assignment.

Assignments will include reading and analyzing assigned texts, critiquing, performing exercises to practice techniques, writing new material, analyzing your previously written material, and revising previously written material. I will return students' homework with my feedback by the day before the next class session.

Students are expected to follow guidelines about assignments and class materials established in the Odyssey Online Student Handbook.

Since we will have only 3 class meetings, attendance at every class is necessary for you to get the most out of this course.

You are expected to attend all classes, except in cases of emergency. In such cases, you should notify the instructor. It is your responsibility to find out what happened in any classes you missed and to complete homework by the deadlines.

Classes will be recorded and made available to students for a limited time. On rare occasions, students' computers do not allow them to access the recordings, so we cannot promise that this will work for you.

Any student who misses more than one class may be expelled from the course and will receive no refund.

Students are expected to follow the policies about attendance and behavior set out in the Odyssey Online Student Handbook.

Technical Requirements:
Technical requirements for all Odyssey Online Classes are covered on the Online Classes page.

Tentative Schedule:
January 3: 
Pre-class assignment is due.
January 4: 
First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. The fill-in-the-gaps brain. Why it's so hard to study subtext. Word-based and non-word-based subtext. Meta-implication: What does implication itself imply? What do we gained by burying our message in subtext? Engaged or on-the-page: McLuhan's concept of hot vs cold media. Implicitness in your own work. The first two strategies: entailment and presupposition. Discussion of pre-class assignment. Assignment of homework.
January 10: 
Homework is due.
January 17: 
Critiques are due. Homework is returned with my feedback.
January 18: 
Second class meeting. Discussion of homework. The text as conversation. Assumptions we make in conversation, either between two speakers or between writer and reader. The second two strategies: Relevance and Manner. Indirectness--when the words don't match the purpose. Metaphor and the objective correlative. Student questions. Assignment of homework. Four students will have private meetings with me between 8:30-9:30 PM EST.
January 24: 
Homework is due.
January 30: 
Five students will have private meetings with me between 7:00-8:15 PM EST.
January 31: 
Critiques are due. Homework is returned with my feedback.
February 1: 
Third class meeting. Discussion of homework. The last two strategies: Quality and Quantity. What does it mean when a character is blind to implicitness? Cultural variation in what can and can't be expressed. Pudor--the dignity of reticence. Variation across time. Variation across point of view. Implicitness in world-building. What kind of world: High-context vs low context cultures. Two-stepping between implicitness and explicitness. Student questions. How to continue your progress. Five students will have private meetings with me between 8:30-9:45 PM EST.

Donna Glee Donna Glee Williams is a ghost-writer, editor, creative coach, seminar leader, and author of two fantasy novels, The Braided Path and Dreamers, as well as a long string of short publications that include poetry, short stories, essays, reviews, song lyrics, and academic articles. She has led hundreds of highly praised seminars. She earned her MFA and PhD from Louisiana State University and is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. You can learn more about her at http://www.donnagleewilliams.com/

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