NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

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Friday, January 13, 2012

SUB-TEXT






Sub-text, not just when we write but in daily life. A limp handshake when we greet someone we don’t like, the turn of a cheek to avoid a kiss or the lowering of a voice to avoid being overheard.
According to the Russian teacher and theatre director, Konstantin Stanislavsky, who revolutionized acting technique, defines sub-text as the thoughts and problems behind the dialogue. In both theatre and writing, the power of words in our text is enhanced by words left unspoken. The unwritten past, and the drive toward the future influence the character that brings a novel to life. A reaction that shows in a facial expression—a mouth that twists, a tear unshed, an unexpected smile, the tap of a finger. A cry ignored, a pale complexion, laughter or screams when unexplained phenomena “go bump in the night.”
Subtext is a story within a story that illustrates the underlying personality of the character. In theatre, the actor contributes to the sub-text with his interpretation, in a book, a reader’s imagination will add to the author’s and, the writer’s knowledge of the character she works with, thinks and dreams about, adds the sub-text that makes the human beings that inhabit the pages of her book surprise, delight, and sometimes change the plot and/or premise of the story.
The body language—the way each character walks, their background, their attitude toward someone they love or hate or ignore. It may be a facial tic, a hand over a mouth, a constant smile—that provides an unspoken thought and motive that’s understood by the observer and reader.
We—as writers—make mental notes when we people watch or eavesdrop on a private conversation and—perhaps—there is another writer watching and listening to us.

5 comments:

Clare London said...

This is fascinating, and so true - stories can and should weave a strong visual impact in a reader's mind. I love the idea of thinking of the theatricals when I write! I admit I already speak some of my dialogue aloud, to see how it sounds in reality :)

JB Lynn said...

Great post. I wonder if you think (speaking in generalities, of course) women are more tuned in to subtext than men.

Toni Anderson said...

Love subtext and body language. Making my characters actions and words disconnect (when lying) always gives me a secret thrill--will people recognize it? And the way we have learned to interpret body language from the cradle is another fascinating process. Very important when telling a story. Great post, Elise!

Marcelle Dubé said...

Love the post and the subject matter, Elise. I, too, love it when the words contradict the body language. It's like telling two stories at once.

Elise Warner said...

JB--never thought of women being more into subtext than men but now that you've brought up the subject,I do think you're right.

Ladies--perhaps we have another blog about the differences (if any) in the awareness of subtext between men and women.

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