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Subtext is any content of a creative work, which is not announced explicitly (by characters or author), but is implicit, or becomes something understood by the audience. Subtext has been used historically to imply controversial subjects without drawing the attention (or wrath) of censors. This has been especially true in comedy; it is also common in science fiction, where it can be easier—and/or safer—to deliver a social critique if, e.g., set in a time other than the (author's) present.[citation needed]


Subtext is content "sub" i.e. "under" (with the sense of "hidden beneath") the verbatim wording; readers or audience must "gather" subtext "reading between the lines" or inferring meaning, a process needed for a clear and complete understanding of the text. A meaning stated explicitly is, by definition not subtext (for lack of hiding), and writers may be criticized for failure artfully to create and use subtext;[citation needed] such works may be faulted as too "on the nose", with the characters meaning what they literally have said, undermining dramatic tension, and leaving the work too prosaic.[1]

Subtext also may be included in the action of narratives, with secondary themes expressed in order to appeal to a general audience; such approaches to sexual or otherwise more adult story-content, in works accessible to the young, often fails to "register" for the young reader, though adults will understand—perhaps even appreciating the mental stimulation offered them, in catching the child-invisible nuances.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Seger, Linda (November 1, 2011). "Chapter 1: Subtext: Definition and Exploration". Writing Subtext. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Production. ISBN 978-1-932907-96-4.