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  • Writer's pictureHeather Williams

Unlocking the Power of Subtext in Storytelling: A Guide for Writers




We’ve heard the adage, “Show Don’t Tell” so much it’s a cliché. In the visual medium of film, it’s critical. The audience won’t be reading the script as they’re watching the film. As writers, the visuals we create with words must “show” the story to them.


Dialogue should be tight, crisp, support the story, and move it forward. With our words, we must craft layered, tightly woven stories that engage and entertain an audience until the last frame of the film.


Subtext is key to great storytelling. An important tool in the screenwriter’s arsenal, subtext is the underlying message or meaning attributed to text, action, or an object that may be implied and not directly stated.


Using subtext enables an audience to glean information about the characters' emotional states, the environment, and backstory without the screenwriters spelling out or presenting these aspects of the story in real time. Skillful use of subtext allows the audience to experience a visceral connection to the characters and story.


The setting, the objects, the extras in the scene, and the objects the main characters bring with them can all be used to create subtext and to illustrate an underlying message behind the dialogue in the film.


Subtext creates double entendre, “multiple meanings” for the audience. Subtext allows the audience to maintain an intuitive connection to the film long after the last frame, the benchmark of truly great storytelling.



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