Thursday, October 17, 2019

Subtext in scene/dialogue

I'm looking for examples of subtext within a scene, especially in dialogue. Any ideas? Here's one-

Let's say that Tommy is keeping a secret from his co-worker Lucy.
He's planning a big surprise party for her birthday Saturday night.

So she's talking about her plans for the weekend.

"I think Saturday night, I might call up Susie, and take her to that
play at the Phoenix. The tickets will cost a fortune, but I've been
saving up."

Tommy's fists stilled in the bread dough. Then, after a moment, he
took up kneading again. "You don't want to see that play. I hear it's

Susie slid the tray of bread loaves into the big oven. "It won three
Tonys. So it has to be good."

"Nah," Tommy said quickly. "Tonys don't mean anything. Look. Really.
Tell you what. I want to see it too. But -- but I have plans Saturday
night. So maybe I can take you-- both of you-- to the matinee Sunday."

Susie glanced back over her shoulder as she closed the oven door. "You
just said you heard the play was lousy."

"Yeah. Lousy for a Saturday night. But for a matinee, it's great." He
plunged his fists back into the bread dough, and said, "Come with me
Sunday. Really. Not Saturday. My treat!"


He's trying to keep her from going, only he can't tell exactly why, so he
pretends it's about the quality of the play. The point is to have him
reveal to the reader that he's deceiving her -- give us a hint of that-- without
telling us (or her) why. So she can pick up on the deception and not
know what it is-- maybe she'll think he's taking another lady to the play
that night and doesn't want her to see him, she thinks.

Just think of how the people around you-- maybe even you :)-- often
converse with somewhat complicated agendas. They're trying to get you to
do something without actually coming right out and saying it. Or they're
trying to hide something. Or they're hinting at something. How do people
do that in conversation? How can you put that complication into words on
the page?

The first step is to be aware that much of the time, people aren't saying
exactly what they mean. :)