Monday, January 12, 2009

The Subtext of Life

Lately it seems the subject of subtext has been popping up in books, conversations, etc everywhere I turn. I think I am being sent a message of some sort from the great beyond to be on the alert for subtext. But I don’t really know if I know what subtext means.

In reading definitions of subtext I find it to mean hidden or unspoken messages in writings. It is that which is beneath the surface of the obvious. So in effect someone is saying something but meaning something else. That makes sense.

A few weeks ago I read a new book by Nelson DeMille. Mr. DeMille is a serious writer and his stories usually concern serious subjects. But in this book Mr. DeMille told a serious story but he told it with humor. The main character/narrator was always cracking jokes or making smart remarks. It was one of the funniest books I have ever read.

Maybe there was subtext there. Maybe DeMille was sending a message we should all lighten up. Even though the book concerned betrayal and murder it kept the reader amused from start to finish.

I looked back over the five books I have written to see if there was subtext in any of them. I then wondered if you can have subtext that the author didn’t even know existed. For example I write a lot about my brother. Someone told me that I must have a good natured brother to take all the mean things I say about him.

Is that true? I have always felt I ribbed him good naturedly about things. I go on about his being cheap but I always did it in what I thought was a funny way. But is there a subtext to my treatment of him? Am I really being mean and vindictive as I write those stories about his penury?

Then there was my best friend from high school. I wrote about him being so happy in high school that he never got over it. I remember after the book with that story came out my friend almost became my ex-friend. He was furious. Now I think what I thought was a story about my admiring him for being such a popular guy in high school came equipped with subtext that ridiculed him for not being able to get over it.

This subtext is a dangerous thing. It seems to seep into our writing whether we want it to or not. And if, as I think, it is often subconscious then I am in big trouble. How can you protect yourself against something you don’t even know you are doing?

When I write, I write about my life and people, places and things that come into it. I try never to be snarky or malicious. I honestly don’t want to hurt anyone. But sometimes I think that by wanting to be honest in all that I write I send a subtext that explains my true feelings.

We live and learn. Until a few weeks ago I was concerned with the “text” in my books and nothing else. Now that I have learned what “subtext” is I have to be on guard not to let my secret thoughts find their way into my stories.

Still even as I complain I am fascinated by the thought of subtext and will be searching it out in every book I read from now on. It’s like looking for buried treasure.


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