U – Understatement

My A to Z Challenge theme is teaching you how not to write a book, or a short story, or any piece of creative writing whatsoever. For more information, including links to previous chapters and lessons, please refer to this post. Now buckle in and proceed with…

THE WORST ROMANCE NOVEL EVER WRITTEN IN 26 DAYS.


PANDORA’S TACKLEBOX

Billionaire Highlander cowboy Hawk MacHardcastle is tired of living the jetset life of champagne, bucking broncos, kilts, fast cars, and burning bundles of cash for warmth. Desperate to find meaning in his life, he retires to his family’s isolated cabin in the wilds of New Jersey, on the shores of majestic Lake Latrine.

There, Hawk plans on self-reflection and pursuing the great love of his life—fishing. However, Hawk’s self-imposed loneliness comes to an end when he makes a most unusual companion and fishing buddy.

Dropsy Velvet was once a young woman living on the shores of Lake Latrine with her settler family. However, a curse turned her into a mermaid and now she lives, sad and alone, in the depths of the lake. She hasn’t had human contact for close to fifty years, thanks to everyone either being terrified of her or thinking they’re drunk when they see her—but Hawk may be the connection to the world she’s been craving. Charmed by her innocent face, sparkling wit, and huge bare breasts, Hawk decides to help her find a way to lift the curse, as she will lift his: the curse of ennui and affluenza. But time is running out, for something sinister wants to flush Latrine away forever.


Understatement

The old woman—a witch, Hawk was now certain of it—took out her magic wand and lifted Dropsy from the sand so she levitated in mid-air. Dropsy shrieked and wriggled.

“Put her down!” Hawk tried to grab her, like a balloon that had escaped from a child’s hand at a fair in southern Minnesota in the middle of July, but he couldn’t reach her. “What are you doing, you evil old woman?”

The witch waved her wand and Dropsy flew out over the lake and splashed down in the water. Hawk ran in after her. He grabbed her and they swam back to the shore, but when Hawk tried to pull her out, Dropsy wouldn’t budge. He gasped, realizing what the witch had done. Dropsy was now bound to the lake and couldn’t get out. He tugged and tugged, but she was stuck like a basketball in a sewer drain.

The witch cackled. “At sunset, I will drain this lake.” She then vanished.

“What a bitch,” Hawk muttered. He sighed. This was not what he signed up for when he started dating a mermaid.


WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED HERE?

Understatement is a method of communicating the importance of a plot point without using overwrought drama. Think of the dark moment of your story, the moment when things are the most dire and awfulness is happening all around—it’s easy to overexpress this moment, because it’s so bad. Adequately describing the gravity of the situation is difficult, and over-handling it can lessen its effectiveness. This is where understatement comes in. You can show the horror of something by not directly stating it.

If a character falls into a coma, it’s much more believable if their family members cling to each other, numb and weeping, wrapped in a sort of quiet, helpless pain. Having them scream, tear their hair out, and fling themselves down the elevator shaft in the hospital crosses the line into absurdity. Sometimes the most subtle expressions are the most meaningful. Alternately, using understatement when dramatics would be more effective can also ruin things. If your mermaid girlfriend just got trapped in a lake that’s about to be sucked down into Hell, perhaps some screaming would be in order, instead of just being sort of put-out about it.

14 comments

    1. Yes! One of the first things I Iearned about writing is that sometimes you have to cut scenes you love because they don’t serve a purpose. I think it makes you a better writer, and eventually you grow to love the scenes that are necessary.

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