Crafting Subtext for Your Character

Creating subtext for your character is a crucial tool in a fiction writer’s arsenal. It adds depth, complexity, and intrigue to your characters and plot. Subtext is the art of saying one thing on the surface while conveying deeper, hidden meanings underneath.

Inside the Character’s Head

One of the most direct ways to create subtext in fiction is by providing insight into your protagonist’s inner world. By revealing their thoughts and emotions about the events unfolding around them, you can plant subtle, underlying messages in the reader’s mind.

Example: Amelia watched John walk away with a heavy heart. She thought, “He’ll be fine without me.” But deep down, she couldn’t shake the feeling of abandonment that gnawed at her.

Amelia’s outward appearance and actions may suggest one thing, but her inner thoughts reveal the true subtext – her fear of abandonment. This technique allows readers to connect with the character on a deeper level and invites them to interpret the subtext within the narrative.

Subtext in Dialogue

People rarely say exactly what they mean in real life, and this holds true in fiction. Dialogue is a powerful tool for conveying subtext, as characters can communicate information implicitly, leaving readers to decipher the true meaning of their words.

Example: “I guess you’re free to do whatever you want,” Sarah said with a forced smile. Her words sounded understanding, but her tone betrayed her jealousy.

Sarah’s words express one sentiment, but her tone reveals the subtext — envy. Readers can infer the depth of her emotions and the complexity of her character by paying attention to the nuances in her dialogue.

Subtext Through Behavior

A character’s behavior can reveal their feelings and intentions. Whether it’s through body language, habits, or actions, showing subtext through behavior can be a powerful way to implicitly convey a character’s inner world.

Example: As Mark stared out the window, he absently twisted the wedding ring on his finger, a habit he had developed after the divorce. 

Mark’s behavior, specifically his fidgeting with the wedding ring, communicates the subtext of his lingering attachment and emotional turmoil. His actions provide depth to his character and give readers insights they might not get through direct exposition.

Subtext empowers you to convey powerful, implicit messages that will keep your audience captivated and eager to explore the hidden layers of your story. 

Tim Kane

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