Screenwriting : Subtext by Karina Wilson

Karina Wilson


Subtext is a crucial part of the screenwriter's craft. Here are some of my tips. What are yours?

Screenwriting: Nail The Subtext
Screenwriting: Nail The Subtext
Oh, subtext, you're a fickle wretch. By definition, you must not be written or spoken. You're invisible on the page. As soon as you start to become too obvious, you cease to exist. Nonetheless, your a…
Richard Toscan

A nice piece on varieties of subtext, though the Ted & Bill thing is a bridge too far for me. I've found in years of working with screenwriters and playwrights that subtext is nearly impossible to "teach" by talking about it -- it took me a long time to realize that. I finally came up with a writing exercise that seems to work: write two pages of dialogue between two characters without allowing either one to say more than three words in a single line. That restriction on words coming out of mouths nearly always drives spoken subtext beneath the surface -- where it belongs.

Owen Mowatt

Totally agree, Richard. If subtext was a colour it would be orange. The only way to make it is to mix red and yellow. In a literary form, Red is a strong theme and Yellow would be the interesting charactrers. I cant even begin to imagine how boring a script/story would be if every character just said what was on their mind and not use any subtiety. I think I remember Tarantino sayin that he never focusus on subtext. for him it is something that happens naturally.

Pablo A. Rajczyk

When I used to teach my English 101 students about subtext I would give them a concrete example. I'd ask them if they'd ever had an argument with a friend or significant other. They'd all nod, or answer yes. Then I'd tell them a story - totally fabricated, of course ;) - about how my wife and I had recently fought over the fact that I left a pair of socks on the floor. The argument, I said, went on for a while, getting more and more heated. I'd throw in a lot of "you never..." and "you always..." Then I'd ask, "Do you think the argument was actually about socks?" Most of the students would laugh, all of them would shake their heads or say no. It's never about the socks.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Great article, Karina. Wonderful tips. Thanks for sharing it. I thoroughly enjoy, seek, read subtext in everything. I'm amazed when someone doesn't understand the hidden, underlying meaning of things. I approach subtext as something natural and not forced. All of us express ourselves through subtext whether we fully realize it or not. Learning to better attune to it certainly helps as a writer. Anyway, I greatly appreciated all the subtext elements, or rather varieties, listed in your piece especially #6 regarding sex in film. Less is soooooo much more. :)

Karina Wilson

Thanks for all the input, everyone. I agree with Richard, it's a difficult thing to teach, you can only point people in the right direction.

Vladimir Skomarovsky

Karina, I enjoyed reading your unique thinking. Your knowledge crosses the border of wisdom. The subtext contains the engine of drama. It's the gate for the hidden instinct to saturate action. After all, the tang is given to us to hide our thoughts and intentions. Thanks.

Kristopher Rickards

Thank you for highlighting your piece. When people have read my scripts in the past, I ask if they have spotted my subtext or motifs. Quite often I have to explain them, even when I thought I'd been blatant. I don't necessarily see that as a good endorsement of my writing, though.

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