On Implication

Repeating image of hands overlapping against a black and white back drop.

Hands, Hands…Horst P. Horst (New York, 1941)

It’s February, which means Eroticon is less than a month away (and shining like a light on the horizon), so I’ve started pulling my session notes together. The subject of my session is sex in flash fiction or, more specifically, how to write sex that turns the reader on reader on and lends a story impact, weight and relevance.

In writing as in life, sex is powerful on multiple levels. Knowing how to play with those levels makes for fiction that resonates—not just sexually, but emotionally and psychologically, as well. It’s one of my favorite writerish things to talk about, mostly because there’s so much to say—far more than I could ever fit into 55 minutes.

Rather than try to fit the ocean in a teacup, I figured I’d write a small series of posts on some of the things I’d flesh out a bit more if I were hosting a series of workshops, rather than a single session. It also has the nice, inclusive side effect of opening up the topic for those who aren’t going to Eroticon this year.

Side note: While the session is going to touch lightly on all of this, these posts are in no way a prerequisite. The only prerequisite I have is that you bring an open mind and a willingness to experiment in whatever way suits your style and interests.

So, back to keeping your writing tight. For this post, I want to talk about implication, which is as important in fiction as it is in flirting, (and, as any good flirt can tell you, worlds of filthy stuff can be said between the squeaky-clean lines). It’s part of something called “negative space”, which I’ll get into more during the session. For now, I want to focus on what implication has to do with connecting to the reader.

Sex and flash fiction were made for each other, largely because, like horror (or any other psychologically driven genre), the best erotic writing has a visceral impact. A restricted word count forces every element to count, which makes for a story that packs a hard punch. While a 250-word limit might sound crazy-pants, it’s actually an opportunity to nail your reader down on a deep, visceral level. But, in order to make that work, you’ve got to do something first. You’ve got to trust the reader. Here’s what I mean.

A few weeks ago, I wrote this:

They walk hip to hip, knuckles brushing, as they measure their potential in the rhythm of their feet..

I wrote that sentence in response to someone’s assertion that it’s impossible to write a “proper story” in less than 20 words because you can’t “trust the reader to get it”. Whether or not this qualifies as a “proper story” is a matter of opinion—some people like a clear beginning, middle and end, so if that’s what you’re after, it may not be your cup of tea. The idea of trusting the reader though, that’s something I have definite feelings on.

The story in that sentence comes more from implication than actual text. These two people are in sync enough to walk naturally together, but they aren’t yet sure of their potential as a couple. It’s a very specific moment in a relationship—the exploration of an unspoken line. Will they continue on together, or not? I know what I think is going to happen, but what I think isn’t the point.

That’s where trusting the reader comes in.

The reader’s only job is to read – not correctly interpret the “true” meaning of a story, as laid out by the author with loving precision. While I do believe that the author’s intention is important, I don’t believe the reader is obliged to treat it like the word of an authorial god.

What an author intends shapes a story. That’s why intention is important—it lends the writer direction and purpose. It is not, however, the only determinant of a story’s impact. Impact comes not only from the writing, but from how the reader engages it. It’s about making and maintaining a connection…sort of like flirting.

While you definitely don’t want your motives misinterpreted (flirting is one thing, but being a creeper is another), the best way to facilitate a natural connection is to be aware of the person you’re talking to. So, rather than trusting the reader to “get it”, it’s much more productive to invite their interest. Implication is one really efficient, really effective way to do that.

A writer controls the writing process. What a writer can’t control is how a story gets read because every, single reader will bring something different to it. And that’s okay. That’s how connections are made. That’s how you get a story that has a secret, powerful, visceral impact on someone other than yourself. All you have to do is leave a little blank space between the lines, and let the reader fill it in.

That’s how you get out of the way, and let the reader engage your work on their terms. When they do, it’s magic, like crazy chemistry on a first date. It means they’re trusting you enough to let you take them somewhere, anywhere, even places you don’t know about. It means they’re with you, no matter where it leads.

2 comments

  1. …They walk hip to hip, knuckles brushing, as they measure their potential in the rhythm of their feet..

    A smile and memories of silent, unspoken love is my reaction to this. Your writing style is one of the reason’s I respect and follow your work.

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