Friday, February 26, 2016

Tell it slant

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With Explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind –
                  Emily Dickinson

Writers descend from the line of the bards. Those poets of old who recited, sang, danced the stories of their times. Like the bards, writers capture the “truths” of the world around them through the telling of stories. Whether journalism, fiction, nonfiction, poetry – they don’t invent the truths; they expose them.  But writers do so with finesse, through the cultivation of the written language, choosing words, characters, plots, newsflashes which will best reveal the truths they want considered. 

Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant….”  The work of writers is to create the slant that allows truth to “dazzle gradually.”  Producing a slant first requires writers to slog through the truths to know why and how we want to write.  We ask the question, “What truth is resonating for me as a writer right now?  The resilience of life?  A prejudice, bias, or hurt which exists in the world?  The joy which stems from companionship?

How we decide to reveal, convict or encourage becomes our stories. We consider whether the truth should be told subtly or obviously. We debate the merits of fictional characters through whom the readers can resonate versus straight-forward expression of the truth. We ask if brevity (maybe flash fiction) will win the day or if drawing out the truth over time (a novel) will have more impact.  We ponder which will make our readers more thoughtful: our characters or story repelling or attracting the readers? 

As we rewrite and edit, we remember Emily Dickinson’s truth:  Success in Circuit lies.  We ask, “How can we rewrite this section of dialogue so that it hints at the truth but does not reveal fully – at least not yet?”  We consider whether this is the point in the story where character development is key to draw the reader more completely into the know or whether it should come later.  We debate the merits of the ending as it is written versus a twist. 

Every decision crafts the slant through which we disclose a truth about the world, resulting in that poem, that novel, that essay, that news story.  And every choice yields the satisfaction of knowing that like the bard, we have given our audience something more, something which not only entertains but is another reason for reflection, something which reveals yet another truth.
Paula Castner is a wife, mother of three, and a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative as well as a freelance writer, playwright, writing and baking workshop facilitator, and drama director. She receives emails at

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