What You Don’t Say Tells Another Story: The Power of Subtext in Writing

Facial expression, misdirection, avoidance, double meaning, body language, and quips, are some of the ways to use subtext. How fun for your readers when you let them take part in writing your story. Think about it. If you haven’t spelled everything out for them in black and white dialogue, then they get to guess, and that has its own reward. If your readers predict what really going on, they pat themselves on the back. “Good job!” If they’re wrong, then they get the excitement of surprise.

“Where are you going?” asked her husband.

“To the bar to get drunk.” Lila slammed the door.

or

“Where are you going?” asked her husband.

Lila gave him a smirk as she slammed the door.

Now which conversation engages you more? Which one brings you in close and makes you imagine? See how subtext works?

Here’s another example from my current historical biography set in England in 1638. Not only do the readers experience the subtext of this unspoken conversation, but the protagonist, Margaret, also wonders what’s going on behind her brothers’ unspoken words. She’s not about to ask, but will just leave instead.

The brothers glanced at each other, telling Margaret she must have been a topic of some unpleasant discussion.

“May I have my book? I shall leave now.”

We’ve all experienced unspoken conversations. How many times do parents engaged in coded conversations to keep something private from their children?

Don’t overlook the use of humor. In my last book, The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut the protagonist and her husband, on vacation, had just left the hotel and were about to board a ferry to go to stay on another island. Her husband, a worrisome guy, asks if she had checked the bathroom.

She could had said, “Yes.” or “I thought you did.” or “Dammit, quit worrying.” This is what’s called on-the-nose dialogue. Instead, she says, “I left all our toiletries along with my nightie for the maid.”

Subtext in writing brings your readers up close and into the minds of your characters, giving readers an opportunity to stretch the imagination. Finding ways to not put everything in your readers’ face helps them become more engaged and adds power to your writing.

What ways do you find to incorporate subtext into your writing?

About Char of inkydancestudios

Writer by nature and for the soul. Educator for life. Artist for love. Passion: All things good and true.
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2 Responses to What You Don’t Say Tells Another Story: The Power of Subtext in Writing

  1. Good advice, Miss Charlene. As always!!

    Like

  2. With you, I preach to the choir. I’m reading the rest of your last book: Murder at the Petroglyphs. Fun twists and turns!
    Thanks, Pat.

    Like

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