by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan
Subtext is more than just a layer. It’s more like the filling between the layers. And it’s not the easiest of concepts to understand. By definition, it’s an underlying and often distinct theme in a piece of writing. It can be woven throughout the story, or the theme can merely decorate the work. I’d rather have it woven through, but how the heck do you do that without beating the reader over the head?
I searched some more, because, frankly, I didn’t know. Here’s what I’ve found.
Subtext or undertone is any content of a creative work that isn’t announced explicitly by the characters or the author, but becomes something understood by the reader as the story unfolds.
Well, what do you know. I did that in Chapel Springs Revival. Claire is a fairly new Christian. I don’t say that directly but her knowledge and understanding show it. They’re in the subtext, shown through action instead of dialogue.
Any unspoken thoughts, motives, and emotions of characters—what they really think and believe—can play out in action or reaction to something and be subtext.
Subtext can also be used to imply controversial subjects without alienating the reader, often through use of metaphor or humor.
Subtext serves to add complexity to a premise that on the surface may appeal to younger viewers, but also attract older fans, as is often the case with cartoons, science fiction and fantasy. It can serve to aid in suspension of disbelief.
In historical novels, authors often use social customs, details, and/or dialogue as subtext to impart information about the period and culture.
So there you have it. A quick definition of subtext, in which I don’t think I used any. Now that you know the definition, have you used subtext in your work? Purposely or by accident? I know any I used was there because I like to show instead of tell. But if you had me sit down to an exercise of writing subtext, I’d sit there scratching my head. For me, it’s only when I’m deep into my story world those things seem to happen. Go figure.
So share with me examples of subtext you’ve either used or read. And if it’s used, did you discover it later or purposely insert it? I need to learn this stuff.
writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. She’s a novelist,
a humor columnist, and playwright. She believes
chocolate and coffee are two of the four major food groups and resides in Sugar
Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a dog of Biblical proportion. You can
find Ane at anemulligan.com or her Amazon author page.