What Is Subtext And Why Should You Write It? | Writer’s Relief

Mar 27, 2024 | Writing Tips

What Is Subtext And Why Should You Write It? | Writer’s Relief

You’ve probably read stories where the characters’ actions are all explained, leaving no room for interpretation. For example, if a character is sad about Grandma skipping town with the winning lottery ticket, do you know it because the writer told you so, or because the character is holding an old, cherished photo of Grandma while standing in her empty apartment? The second option is an example of subtext. But what exactly is subtext, and why is it important? The experts at Writer’s Relief have some insights and tips to share about using subtext to improve your writing.

How And Why You Should Use Subtext In Your Writing

Subtext is the meaning that’s behind the text; that which is implied rather than stated outright. Subtext can be considered an extension of the well-known writing advice “show, don’t tell.” Using subtext provides your readers with additional information about the characters and plot to help create a world that feels real and fleshed out, rather than just words on a page. Here are instances where you might include subtext to give your writing more depth:

Motifs. Animal motifs, flower motifs, and more: Imagery that represents a character can be a great way to suggest hidden personality traits. Does a seemingly kind and gentle widow have a strangler fig hiding in her garden? Does the shy, nerdy classmate seem to have wolf-like mannerisms? Motifs can be used to emphasize qualities the reader already knows about a character—but when the imagery doesn’t line up with what’s expected, it can hint that future developments may have an unexpected twist.

Dialogue. In believable dialogue, subtext can reveal subtle tension between two characters. For example, a rich character might claim to not judge a friend whose income is more modest, yet occasionally says something demeaning about the budget-conscious friend’s clothing choices. Subtext can draw your readers into the story by requiring them to connect the dots and arrive at an unspoken conclusion.

Setting. The story’s setting can be a key place to hide subtext. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the house, with its long crack right in the middle, symbolizes the fractured family living within. Without obviously stating what’s happening, the subtext foreshadows the climax of the story.

Actions. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Does a character claim disinterest in your protagonist, yet is always the first on the scene to offer comfort? When the actions and the dialogue don’t align, your readers will pick up on the subtext that things aren’t always as they seem.

By scattering subtext throughout your story, you leave a trail of breadcrumbs for your readers to notice and interpret. Instead of just having the story told to them, your audience becomes more engaged and takes an active role in reaching the story’s conclusion.

When you’re ready to submit your story or novel for publication, the expert researchers at Writer’s Relief can help boost your odds of getting an acceptance! Learn more about our services, and submit your work to our Review Board today!

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Question: What’s an example of subtext you’ve used in your writing?