Writing Corner March & April 2024


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March 10, 2024 at 3:36 p.m. | Updated April 7, 2024 at 3:19 p.m.
Jimmy Stewart's gentle relationship with Harvey, the pooka, was subtext for that movie.
Jimmy Stewart's gentle relationship with Harvey, the pooka, was subtext for that movie.

...by Ariele M. Huff

Writing Corner March-April 2024

Subtext is an underlying and unspoken situation that is more like a concept: racism, sexism, the milieu of a time period, sexual attraction, etc. There's usually a single-underlying subtext beneath a whole story, and in some scenes, this can be broken into its elements. For example, the subtext in It's a Wonderful Life is small town culture--which both draws and repels George: "I'm gonna shake the dust of this little town off my feet.…" But then the small-town warmth and connection is what he can’t leave and what eventually saves him.

A scene with strong subtext is the famous one in that movie where George and Mary are talking on the same phone to Sam about investing in plastics. They are clearly attracted to each other.  It's one of the classic romantic film scenes of all time, though in most of it they aren't touching, kissing, or even directly referencing anything about each other. 

The subtext surfaces at the most when George grabs Mary and kisses her. The next scene skips straight to their marriage. Nothing is ever said about this heavy subtext BUT you know it's there. 

In a book, of course, the author would describe the actions: George smelling Mary's hair and Mary gazing into his eyes. If there's omniscience, we'd hear one or both of their thoughts in some way: George found he couldn't keep his hands off Mary. Where have you been all my life? he found himself thinking over and over. Or something like that. Still, there's no direct reference to it like “sexual attraction and desire for Mary overwhelmed George while she had wanted him all her life.” 

It's NOT the plot of the story or the theme. It's simply a strong and necessary element that we come to realize without actually focusing on that aspect.

The subtext in the Star Wars series is the fascist like government vs. the freedom seeking rebellion—good vs evil in a social sense, while Darth and Luke represent it in the very personal and familial sense.

Subtext in The Devil Wears Prada is the mentoring element of the relationship between the boss and the new girl. While none of these things are spoken to directly—or rarely, but they come through unmistakably. 

Note that subtext occurs at least as often in nonfiction as it does in fiction, and that it is often the main reason readers come to care about a character.

Ariele Huff leads ZOOM writing groups and Ancient Healing Tools for Modern Stress, Processing Loss Workshops, and a ZOOM Ancient Healing Games for Modern Fun. Connect at ariele@comcast.net for a full list of ZOOM and online classes.  

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