Sometimes my sense of humor is too subtle. Sometimes I remark after a dud joke, “that one was just for me.”
Likewise, sometimes I bury an idea too deeply in a story.
The first time I realized the danger was when Black Wolf came out and nobody seemed to grok the character of Darrow. Yes, on one hand he was a device to see what was happening with the story’s villains, but I was also trying to do something else with him. Months after the book’s release, a reviewer pointed out Darrow’s function as a pathetic foil to the protagonist. I felt better as more readers noted the device over the following year, but it became obvious that only the “big” characters and plot elements—the werewolves, the weird vampire, the master swordsman—stuck with most readers.
Since then I’ve tried to be less subtle with the important stuff. I put most of the “small stuff’ in places where missing it won’t undermine the story. Mostly, I don’t think about it much after the outline stage, but there is a recent exception.
Probably the subtlest secret I’ve laid into a story appears in “The Gleaners,” which appears in Shattered Shields, an anthology of military fantasy released just today. While it isn’t critical to the plot, there’s an implication that every reader so far has missed—including the editors. Only one of my first readers knows the secret, which I pointed out to get her opinion. She gave the thumbs up that it was subtle but present and that a few readers ought to find it.
So there it lies, not unlike the countless battlefield corpses our protagonists pick over. Will you be the first to find it?