Welcome back on a Monday, BGs.
Over the weekend, C.J. commented that it’s been pretty quiet around here—meaning on the comments page. You’re right, C.J., the BGs ain’t been really chatty lately. I’d be afraid I’ve bored folks to tears and everybody went away—except that the number of blog readers has increased. Go figure.
Maybe their silence is a subtext. Ha-ha.
Speaking of which—today we’re going to answer the question: If the meaning of a subtexted conversation isn’t in the words themselves, where is it? The answer lies in the acronym TIME.
When you study subtexted dialogue, you’ll notice that bits of meaning are found in four different categories of description surrounding the spoken words: Thought, Inflection, Movement, and Expression. Our scene between Missy and Franklin (posted last Friday) provides examples of each.
Thought: How could Franklin still treat her so badly after she’d given him such a beautiful son? She’d been so sure a baby would change things. But the pain in her left shoulder, where he’d punched her twice yesterday, baby in her arms, screamed the bitter truth.
Inflection: Her voice was little more than a croak.
Movement: He slouched in the doorway, dismissive eyes flicking over her face, the baby.
Expression: Franklin’s mouth opened in a smirk, his chin jutting.
These TIME tools of description are what you will need when you write your own subtexted dialogue. Here’s a little more detail about each:
Thought: This doesn’t refer to italicized words that represent literal thoughts. You can do that once in a while, but they are jarring and quickly become tiring to the reader, so use them sparingly. In the Missy/Franklin scene, thought has been depicted through narrative. One word of caution, since thought is often the easiest technique to employ. Don’t overuse it, or you will simply move all meaning from spoken word to narrative thought. This will negate the need for other kinds of description and will deaden your scene, telling your story rather than showing it. One way to guard against overuse of thought is to stay within one point of view per scene (which you should do anyway). Note that in our example we remained in Missy’s point of view, yet always knew what Franklin was thinking, based on his actions and Missy’s interpretations.
Inflection: One or two well chosen words can convey a magnitude of meaning. Missy’s “Sleep well?” asked with biting sarcasm spoke of her deep resentment and anger at Franklin. It had nothing to do with wondering how he’d spent his night.
Movement: This includes body language as well as large motions. A slouch, a jiggling foot, a flick of the hand—all convey messages.
Expression: Facial expression can be very effective even when a character is otherwise still. Remember that Missy’s final communication of accepting “her place” under Franklin’s abusive rule was conveyed merely through lowering her eyes. Such silent expression can tell the reader far more than words.
If you want some practice picking out TIME description in subtexting, you can go back to the Missy/Franklin scene and see what other examples you can find of thought, movement, inflection, and expression. (Also, if you have a copy of Getting Into Character, you can look for TIME description in the subtexted dialogue from classic and contemporary novels at the end of the Subtexting chapter.)
This will end our discussion on subtexting, unless y’all post questions I need to answer tomorrow. If you are unsure about any part of this topic, please do leave a question, and I’ll try to clear things up. If you have a question on some other topic—or a suggestion of a topic you’d like covered—please let me know. Otherwise I’ll be knocking about tomorrow (when I’m supposed to be finishing my book) to find something to post about.
See ya Tuesday, BGs.