Emotions Beneath The Words

Because dialogue has to be emotional rather than conversational, one of the best ways of writing dialogue is by using subtext. Subtext 114

provides you with the tools to allow your audience to identify with your characters.

Suppose a man and his girlfriend have been living together for five years and he's really getting bored with the relationship. Let's say he wants to get out of it, but doesn't know what to do and feels trapped. In obvious, direct text he might voice those exact sentiments: "I'm really sick and tired of this relationship and I want out." There's no room for doubt and no room to imagine anything else that might be going on with him. He's just saying what he feels, with no mystery at all.

In subtext that same situation would be dealt with quite differently. Let's say he's just come home from the office for dinner. He slams the door. He then ignores his girl friend while she's talking to him. Perhaps he gives her a grunt or two when she asks him a question. During dinner he hides behind his newspaper, while she continues making small talk about her day.

This keeps up until he suddenly explodes, "Where did you buy this piece of shoe leather?" He pushes his plate away. "Can't you do anything right?" he yells as he jumps up from the table, knocking over his chair.

"Well, if you don't like it, make dinner yourself," she replies.

"Maybe I will," he threatens.

"Why don't you find a maid or someone else who cooks better?" she screams.

"That's not a bad idea," he shouts, putting on his coat and hat and heading for the door. "Don't wait up," he says as he slams the door after him.

That is subtext! The man and woman are really not arguing about food. He wants out, he's feeling desperate. She is feeling bewildered, hurt and threatened. Maybe he has another woman? Maybe he doesn't love her anymore? But do they talk about their relationship—her fears, his wanting out? No! They talk about cooking!

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