How to Use Subtext
In order to use subtext,
- Think of an important message or aspect of the story.
- Hide that message underneath the regular story.
For example, consider a character is just becoming friends with a boy. What she don’t know is that he’s Jewish.
Evan is Jewish
I could see Evan was going to the bagel shop again, where he always got Lox bagels. He was wearing this funny hat on his head, though, and I wasn’t sure what it was.
The subtext of the story here is that the character is not aware yet that Evan is Jewish, as the hat on his head is a yarmulke.
For a second example, consider a boy and girl who have been spending a lot of time together. Tom has begun to like Cara.
Tom has a crush on Cara.
Cara really liked working at the sandwich shop, but she was annoyed by her coworker Tom. He was always getting in the way, always teasing her, and always making these funny faces at her. She wished he would just leave her alone.
The subtext of the story here is that Tom actually has a crush on Cara. She just doesn’t know it yet because his way of acting around her is annoying rather than endearing or romantic.
Subtexts are used often to clue at what characters do not yet know about themselves or about their situations as they develop. They provide the reader with clues as to what may be happening next.
When to Use Subtext
Subtext can be used for a wide variety of uses. In one of its simplest uses, subtext reveals the feelings of those who are speaking. Oftentimes dialogue may sound as if one mood is being felt, when feelings and thoughts reveal another underneath. For another, subtext in the form of metaphors can be used to veil controversial subjects and messages without overtly offending readers. Subtexts can be political, sexual, controversial or otherwise and because they are well-hidden, books that want their messages to be heard underneath the surface can be published. Subtexts should not be used when clear, literal, and honest prose is required in areas such as manual-writing and technical writing.