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When writing we do not always want to be obvious about everything we are saying. The reasons for this can be varied. Perhaps the subject matter is controversal. Maybe we are wanting to get a message across without our audience immediately dismissing it. Possibly, we just want to have a general theme running through the art, without bogging down it’s flow. Whatever our cause for wanting to add multiple meanings to a work of art, the way we go about it is the same. It should be planned beforehand. If we decide what we want to put in first, then we are more able to implement it through out. Before we go much further in this discussion, let’s look at an example of subtext. Read the following paragraph:

The dining hall had a mystical glow about it. Like the type seen in dream. The lights of the dual chandeliers reflected off the many shiny surfaces of the room; the tile floors, the silverware and china upon the table, the ornaments standing inside the various display cases around it. Even the table itself seemed to reflect much of the light. He was not certain if he’d ever seen a table quite as long as this one. Not even on TV. When he sat down to eat he found everyone full and all the food gone. However, when desert was served he was the only one still able to eat and did not have to share. Internally, he giggled at this, even though desert was not his favorite part of a meal. The peach cobbler was nearly as dreamy as the room.

So, did you see the subtext in the above paragraph? It should not overly obvious and in this case it is wrapped inside of a metaphor. The subtext is found in these two sentences “When he sat down to eat he found everyone full and all the food gone. However, when desert was served he was the only one still able to eat and did not have to share.”  Taken outside of the paragraph its meaning should be clearer. Hidden in a metaphor it states simply that being the first to arrive does not always guarantee the best reward. However there is even more to this. If viewed at from one of those who arrived early, and ate the main course, the message they got would be entirely different. Their message might be something along the lines of, those who are greedy are not rewarded. Lastly, the sentence after the metaphor shows that the character understood this message and thus it adds an even deeper layer to the subtext.

Now knowing the kind of layers subtext can add to your work perhaps you might be interested in hearing the how part. The how part is not really that complicated but it does require some planning.

By planning I do not mean laying out every single sentence before you begin writing. In planning, I mean you have to decide the kind of subtext you want to put into it. Do you want a certain type of theme running throughout? Maybe just certain characteristics for characters? Or perhaps something more general like commonly linked morals? Whatever the subtext is going to be, it should be decided before you begin. The reason for this is quite simple. If you do not decide beforehand what subtext you want to add before you begin, then you will not see when the opportunities for adding it appear.

Once you have decided what kind of subtext you want to add, then you can add in that subtext as you edit. Subtext can do a lot for your work but you should have some type of plan if you really wish to utilize it to its fullest potential. Keep in mind though, that like all things of an artistic nature, you have to find the way to implement this into your work, that best suits you. That is where the true art of subtext really shines.

I hope you found this helpful and it gives you ideas on how to make use of subtext in your works of art.


©-2011 J.B. Thomas