Monday, July 26, 2021

Adding Subtext to Your Writing - Another Layer to Baking a Novel

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

Last month, I equated writing a novel to baking a cake in my post, Baking a Novel. I must be craving sweets, because this month, I find myself writing about more layers to this cake. However, if the spatula fits, lick it … or something like that.

The next layer is SUBTEXT

"Subtext is the implicit meaning of a text—the underlying message that is not explicitly stated or shown. Subtext gives the reader information about characters, plot, and the story's context as a whole. Using subtext is a great way to communicate underlying emotion that a character doesn't directly voice." www., How to Write Subtext. 

The subtext becomes understood by the reader as the story unfolds. 

Any unspoken thoughts, motives, and emotions of the characters—what they really think and believe—can play out in action or reaction to what's said or done. 

Subtext can also be used to imply controversial subjects without alienating the reader, often through use of metaphor or humor. 

Subtext serves to add complexity to a premise that on the surface may appeal to younger viewers, but also attract older fans, as is often the case with cartoons, science fiction and fantasy. It can serve to aid in suspension of disbelief.

In historical novels, authors often use social customs, details, and/or dialogue as subtext to impart information about the period and culture.

So there you have it. A quick definition of subtext, in which I don't think I used any. Now that you know the definition, have you used subtext in your work? Purposely or by accident? I know any I used was there because I like to show instead of tell. But if you had me sit down to an exercise of writing subtext, I'd sit there scratching my head. For me, it's only when I'm deep into my story world those things seem to happen. Go figure. 

Your turn: share with me examples of subtext you've either used or read. And if it's used, did you discover it later or purposely insert it? I need to learn this stuff.


Ane Mulligan has been a voracious reader ever since her mom instilled within her a love of reading at age three, escaping into worlds otherwise unknown. But when Ane saw Mary Martin in PETER PAN, she was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. She submerged herself in drama through high school and college. Years later, her two loves collided, and a bestselling, award-winning novelist emerged. She resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her WEBSITEAMAZON AUTHOR PAGEFACEBOOKTWITTERINSTAGRAMPINTEREST and THE WRITE CONVERSATION.


  1. Good Morning, Ane. I don't know if I understand subtext, but I think I probably used it in my historical fiction novel when I wrote a phrase or two in German. The sisters in the story came from Germany, so throughout my story I put in a phrase or two in that language. The meaning of which was easily understood by all readers, because it was very obvious. Whether this is subtext or not - I thoroughly enjoy your blog this morning. Thank you for sharing and to Edie for posting.

  2. Ane, I'm not sure if I insert subtext or not. Like you, maybe it appears by the grace of God. No clue, but I'm going to make sure I put it to use. Going to learn more about this, thanks to this post. And I think the spatula fits quite nicely, therefore ... I shall go lick it! You are too funny! Thanks again!