“They’re starting to stir,” Frank said, looking to Sarah for direction.
The six of us were huddled together on Claire’s back, tense and unspeaking. Jade flew in front of us, setting the pace.
My body rebelled against me, trying to force me to sleep, but I couldn’t. None of us slept save Patty who was nestled safely between Allie and Shean and snoring louder than I previously thought possible.
“Jade is near collapsing anyway,” I muttered, frowning at the five bodies slowing waking on her back. “We have no choice but to stop.”
“They’ll catch us if we stop,” Allie yelled over Patty’s snores.
“They’ll likely catch us anyway,” Sarah said, frowning.
“Then we need to severe their Bonds now before they get here!” Allie yelled.
I watched as Jade’s wings steadily grew weaker, pumping slower. I could feel her muscles giving out. We were pushing her too hard. “She’s right. We’re wasting time up here. By the time we would make it back to the city, they’ll have caught us already.”
“So what if we do stop? Sarah snapped. “Suppose we land, torture five people, and kill them before their dragons find us? Would that stop the others from coming? Stephen has four dragons to torture us with, regardless of whether or not we can free the other six.”
“So we disappear,” I said, grasping for answers. “We run.”
Sarah snapped her head around, making eye-contact with me for the first time since we’d been saved. Her gaze was withering, filled with contempt.
“You’ve already admitted it,” I said defensively, feeling my hackles rise. “There’s no winning this fight! We can come back when the situation has changed.”
“They’re waking up,” Frank interrupted, pointing to the stirring bodies on top of Jade.
I ordered Jade to drop through the air just as Claire did the same. Then, when Jade was only twenty or so yards from the ground, she spun, dropping the Immortals the rest of the way through the air. The five of them landed in a heap with a sickening crunch.
Finally free of her cargo, Jade plopped onto the ground a good distance away and collapsed. Moments later, Claire landed next to the dazed Immortals.
As soon as she touched down, Allie, Frank, Sarah, and I leaped onto the pile of Immortals, repeatedly kicking their heads until they fell back unconscious.
“Jade can’t keep flying,” I said, coughing once we’d finished the melee. “Not with people on her.”
“Claire isn’t doing so hot either,” Allie said, wiping the sweat from her face. “She can go a little longer, but not much. Not without rest.”
“So what do you propose, Drumond?” Sarah hissed. “We leave them here and run?” Her voice was saturated with derision, her eyes cutting straight through me.
“If we stay, we lose,” I said. “Permanantly.”
“Maybe we can convince them to help us,” Allie said, swallowing hard. “What if we offer their freedom in exchange for fighting Stephen?”
Sarah scoffed. “They’ll do nothing unless coerced. We’ll have to torture them to the point that they’d rather die than keep suffering.”
“I’m not torturing anyone,” Allie said, her fists clenched despite her voice catching in her throat.
“You know I won’t either,” I said, my voice hard. “It’s not right.”
Sarah glanced at Frank, who gave her a hesitant nod. “Then it’s the two of us left to do what’s necessary,” she said. “Nothing has changed.”
“Sarah,” I said, nearly choking on her name.
“Serenity,” she corrected.
“Sarah,” I insisted. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t care,” Sarah said, interrupting. “I don’t want to hear it.”
“I just couldn’t bare it,” I continued. “I couldn’t even look at you after…”
Sarah’s face contorted in anger. A single tear forced its way down her cheek as she looked at me with wild eyes. “Say it.”
I shook my head, unable to bring myself to finish.
“After she died!” Sarah yelled, shaking. “Claire died, Drum!”
I covered my ears, shutting my eyes, willing myself to block out the world.
“Our daughter died and instead of facing what happened, you left like a coward! You left me to wallow by myself, pretending as if I never existed. As if Claire never happened.”
I dropped to my knees, letting my hands fall to my side. “I’m sorry.”
“You are that,” Sarah agreed. “A sorry excuse for an Immortal. For a man.”
Silence followed as Sarah looked down on me with a look that I couldn’t quite read.
Eventually, Frank coughed, breaking the silence.
“So what are we going to do?” Allie asked tentatively, not daring to look Sarah or me in the eyes.
“We could bury them,” Frank suggested, shrugging. “That might give us enough time to escape while their dragons search for them.”
“We’re not running,” Sarah insisted.
“What if we bury everyone except Brianna?” Allie asked. “She has three of the dragons by herself. Plus, I think she and Stephen are an item.”
I forced myself to climb to my feet, though I couldn’t bring myself to look at Sarah. “That would lighten the load, but we’d still be running.”
“Guys?” Shean yelled from Claire’s back. “Don’t y’all think we should get going before we have to knock them out all over again? I’m surprised our little girl’s snores haven’t already woken them back up.”
“Allie is right,” Serenity conceded. “Even if we only take Brianna, Stephen will still come looking for her. We’ll leave the rest here, and, if we’re lucky, maybe we can get her to turn on him.”
“It would still be their seven against our four,” Frank cautioned.
“Not if three of them are still looking for their masters,” I said, not daring to tear my eyes from my toes. For a moment, nobody said anything. The silence was filled with Patty’s snores, reminding me of her presence. “We need to take Miguel as well,” I added. “We have unfinished business.”
I did finally look up at that, glancing at Sarah long enough for her to give a nod.
“Alright then,” Allie said. “I guess we have some burying to do.”
Subtext. It’s what’s being said without being said.
Movies do it with images, angles, reaction shots, music, etc. But books have the ability to be just as subtle. Just as impactful without a single piece of dialogue. And all it takes are the right words.
Subtext tends to be one of the hardest things to master for writers, but master it you must if you want to become a great storyteller.
Your goal as a writer should be to convey something beyond your words. When you write a line such as:
“I ran as fast as I could, my heart racing. Tears mixed with sweat as I dared not look behind me.”
The ultimate intention is not to draw attention to the character’s physical condition, but to make the reader anxious about what will happen next. Make them question why the character is running. Make them hope the character escapes.
That’s what writing is all about: Drawing them into the story beyond the words.
If we were to write without subtext, the line would instead look more like:
“I ran away from the monster that was chasing me.”
Yes, it’s technically what happened. But it’s not really the story…
Hopefully, then, it’s clear how subtext is pervasive in writing a story. But how do you go about mastering it?
Show, don’t tell.
It’s one of the first rules I shared in this blog. Show the tears and sweat, don’t tell us they’re scared. Show pursed lips, hard eyes, a scowl, don’t tell us they’re angry.
Trust your audience.
Most readers/viewers are expert consumers. They know how to follow a story. Trust them to understand what you’re telling them.
If you give them the clues, they’ll put it together, which allows them to become a part of the story. They’re engaged and entertained. If you feed them the answer, it’s condescending, disengaging, and worst of all: boring.
I think this is the biggest problem for beginners. Not that you don’t trust your audience, but that you don’t trust yourself.
You’re not sure you did a good enough job describing something. Explaining the plot. Showing emotion. Etc. So you decide to just come out and say it plainly just in case.
You know what, you may be right. You may not have done a good enough job “showing.” But the answer isn’t to “tell” instead. The answer is to go back and show better. And keep showing until you’re confident you showed enough. Eventually, you’ll get it right the first (few) time(s) and won’t need to over-show.
Okay, so this is the biggest place subtext comes into play. It’s the most obvious and potentially the most difficult to master.
You have to use subtext in dialogue. At least, when the dialogue is important.
When someone is hungry, maybe they will just come out and say “I’m hungry,” but when something important is going on, dialogue makes or breaks the scene.
What I did in this chapter with Draco and Serenity was mixture of things. I started with heavy subtext between the two of them and then built up to an outburst to provide clarity. We’ve been waiting for an answer as to what happened between them, so it wasn’t enough to keep hinting. We needed answers so that the readers could have context and a sense of closure when things reach their climax at the end of the story.
Even still… even with the necessity of clarity and answers, I still needed to use subtext in order for the dialogue to feel real.
But the question remains, how do you apply subtext to dialogue? It’s ultimately up to you, but here are some options depending on your characters and their situations:
Beat around the bush
Avoid topics (Change the subject/Interrupt)
Rarely say what they mean
Don’t share how they feel
Overall, just don’t be direct (or even honest in most cases) unless that’s who your character is.