When to Use Subtext

Viewers watching this scene are able to bring their own life experiences into it and identify with the characters. Haven't we all felt the pain of being rejected? Haven't we all felt the uneasiness of trying to end a relationship and not knowing how? Of course we have! In fact, in most of our daily contacts we use subtext, especially when emotions and feelings are involved.

If you think about your daily life, you'll realize what an important part subtext plays in it. Do you tell your boss to "go to hell" when he asks you to stay overtime ? I don't think you do, not if you want to be employed. But you might go to your desk and start slamming papers around or furiously sharpen your pencils. You are using subtext in your actions!

In personal relationships you probably use subtext more than you use text. If you always said exactly what you felt, you'd probably end up without any friends, family or lovers. I give my students the following analogy about subtext:

"You use subtext when you're dating, and text when you're married."

Most of us go through life NOT saying how we really feel. We hide our feelings behind our masks and we behave in ways that are different from our feelings. Think about those emotionally charged situations that you have experienced throughout your life—births, deaths, illness, accidents, weddings, break-ups, divorces. At these highly emotional times, most of us are at a loss for words, and our feelings remain buried deep inside us.

Then there are the social situations, when you want to make a good impression: asking a person out on a date, wanting to make-out with your date, meeting someone you like at a party, a bar, a dance, trying to join a social club, a fraternity, or organization. At these times do you say what's on your mind and behave exactly as you wish? Or do you act in a way you think would create a good impression? Of course, you don't say what you really feel. If you said and did exactly what you wanted to, you'd probably get knocked down, beaten up, or slapped in the face.

People put on a false front most of the time. They live behind their mask or their facade. They behave not as they really feel, but how they want to appear to others. This is not deception, this is self-preservation, and survival. It is how most of us act in our lives. We do this for self-protection, for our self-esteem and for our ego-strength.

Many writers experience a lot of difficulty when trying to write subtext. Instead of writing subtext they often use double entendres, saying something which has a double meaning, or they write dia logue with one character being sarcastic to another. That is not subtext. It is just people being sarcastic!

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  • Alarico
    What is text and subtext in creative writing?
    8 years ago
  • Randall Coulter
    How often do writers use subtext?
    8 years ago
  • j
    How to write subtext in creative writing?
    8 years ago

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