Today, I’m talking about subtext. I’ve just started to plan my new Christian romance, which I’ve decided to use NaNoWriMo to write. I’ve never participated in National Novel Writing Month before and I’d like to give it a go this year. But since I promised to focus on building my blog following with interesting topics, I didn’t want to let the week past without posting this week’s Pull Up A Chair entry. Therefore, I’m going to talk quickly about subtext before I rush back to my planning.
What is Subtext?
Subtext is the deeper meaning to anything a character may say or do when they’re using subtext. You can even use objects as symbols of subtext for specific characters.
Subtext is one of many (I spoke about Deep POV over at Celeste Jones last week) techniques authors use in order to draw the reader into stories, and it’s a clever way to engage the reader on an emotional level. Subtext is subtle, yet we understand it when we encounter it because it’s everywhere.
When using subtext, our characters may act one way when really we know they mean something else. On the other hand, they may say something and mean another thing entirely.
An example of visual and dialogue subtext would be something like this:
Your character storms into her flat and slams her stuff on the nearest table. (We kinda suspect she’s mad.) This is visual subtext for “I’m hopping mad about something”.
What if her flatmate ask how her day was and she replies “Great!” This is dialogue subtext because we can discern from her sarcastic tone and actions that her day wasn’t all that great.
Usually if someone is saying one thing and meaning another, there’s a reason. You can be sure your reader also knows this and she’ll keep reading to discover what’s up with your character and why she’s so angry.
We can convey subtext through vehicles like sarcasm, something implied, metaphors, misinterpretations, double entendres, jest, body language, etc.
Sometimes writers don’t trust their readers to “get it” and will turn around and knock them over the head with what the character really meant. Try not to do this; you don’t need to explain the dialogue subtext because it will have the opposite effect of involving the reader in your story. Trust your reader to be as clever as you are. She won’t thank you for treating her like a simpleton.
Subtext creates deeper meaning. It allows us to experience the story rather than simply reading it, so keep an eye out for all the subtext around you and see if you can’t work a little into your scenes this week!