Subtext


Subtext is one of the most important skills a writer can add to their skill set. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get the concept. Basically, “subtext” is literally “under the text”, or what isn’t said.

To be honest, I stink at this. I think I’ve written stuff too “on the nose,” as the expression goes, which means the characters do and say exactly what they mean to do or say. This makes for a flat, uninteresting story, because the reader’s given everything. To really make the story shine, subtext is key.

There are a lot of ways to add subtext, but dialog is one obvious way. Another is by actions which are discordant with the situation. A simple example is a Southern woman saying “Bless your heart,” when she means, “I hope you die.”

So, this is an exercise in subtext for me, because I really, really need to practice. And I really, really need to write. Like, POST HASTE. I’m rotting inside for not doing it, and I can’t find the convergence of time and energy to do it, to study it, to outline, to do anything except my day job, which is stressing me to the point of high blood pressure.

Ugh.

So anyway…subtext practice.


She heard the floor creak, and her eyes popped open.

The dark seemed to bubble in pockets of black and deeper black, but she blinked, fully awake now, seconds after sound sleep, at the sound.

It was the familiarity of the creak that beckoned her. She strained her ears into the night, through the open bedroom door, to the hallway, listening. A long moment passed, the silence seeming to hiss in her head. Then it drifted to her. The familiar sound of his pace over the floor. She’d heard so many times, so many nights as he padded to the kitchen from bed, or to the bathroom in the night. She’d heard it every day as he got up to shower for work, or he went to turn on the TV or the coffee maker. She knew that pace, that pad across the floor they’d shared for sixteen years.

She knew the sound well, and it became clear now as that familiar, easy walk approached the bedroom where she lay curled on her side.

And her blood ran cold, her eyes widening in terror, and a scream caught in her throat, just like when they lowered his casket into the ground last year…

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