Purple Prose + subtext

Have Fun with Subtext (and Make Others Sweat)


This summer, I dragged two of my kids to our Toyota dealer because of an issue with our van. Five years ago, we bought a vehicle that turned out to have a major design flaw. A design flaw Toyota knew about.

Several days after we took our van in for regular maintenance, the door on the driver’s side made a loud cracking sound every time we opened it. We took it back to Toyota and they told us only an auto body shop could fix it. At. Our. Expense. That was a $600 bill. This was when we found out it was a common problem for Toyota vehicles made over five years ago (and of course, our warranty had just expired).

I went back to the dealership and asked: During our regular service appointments did anyone, knowing this was an issue, checked the status of the doors while our van was still under warranty?

The last thing the service guy wanted to do was answer my question. He kept avoiding it. He told me the info I had (printed from their website) only applied to the U.S. (Yeah, right). So I repeated my ‘yes or no’ question. Okay, maybe I’ve watched one too many Law & Order episodes. I was beginning to sound like a lawyer, stressing each time that I was only interested in a yes or no response.

The guy grew agitated and shifted nervously on his feet. I kept asking my question and he kept refusing to answer it since I was taking him away from his script. It was actually quite entertaining, especially when he shot panicked looks at his co-workers and they pretended he didn’t exist.

Subtext enables your reader to see that more is going on than what’s in the text. It enables you to create a richer, more emotion packed story. But remember, subtext is never told. It’s implied (shown) by many things, including your characters’ actions.

Do you enjoy writing subtext? Is it something your focus on when editing a draft?

(Note: I’ll be talking more about subtext next week)

emotion, showing, and more:

Have Fun with Subtext (and Make Others Sweat) + subtext