The Mona Lisa’s Secret

The curious thing about writing is that it’s very much an art. You can practice writing and you’ll most definitely get better at it, but inspiring writing comes from an innate talent. The talent of telling a story without actually telling it.

The Mona Lisa doesn’t flat out say, “I’m a cryptically smiling young lady, who has a secret and is embarrassed by her toothy grin.” She makes you infer these things instead. We revel in the illusion that we’ve discovered that Mona Lisa has a secret. The illusion being that, all along, the artist intended us to discover that she has a secret. We seldom realize that we should attribute the conclusions we come to about art to the artist rather than to ourselves.

Good writing also tells a story without explicitly telling it. There are concrete tools writers use for this, like allusions and metaphors, and a lengthy list of other rhetorical devices whose names everyone learns in high school and quickly forgets. Yet, in a truly good piece of writing, you can’t decipher the use of these tools. It’s easy to believe that good writing can’t possibly employ dirty strategies and tricks such as these, because they are so well hidden that we only perceive the ripple effect that they have on our reading experience.

I wish I could write like that… to be able to tell a story without actually telling it. I only ever come close to feeling that I’m capable of this when I’m writing about something that makes me sad. Heartbreak makes for good artistic fuel. And does anybody want a broken heart? Isn’t that cruel? To have two desires that refuse to coexist?


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