The Subtleties of Subtext

This post is less how-to and more hell if I know. Because truly–hell if I do (cue shoulder shrug).

I watched Pride and Prejudice last week, a mere fifteen years after its release. In my defense, I didn’t get to watch many movies the first decade of this century (I did, however, see every episode of The Wiggles–if that counts for anything). I found the swoon-inducer on whichever streaming platform I’d retreated to and decided to indulge myself. If I were to write anything about this movie, I would pen a piece to ponder what cosmic karma we, as humans, collectively aligned to deserve the marvelous gift that is Judi Dench. Honestly, I don’t think there is any role she does not shine in. The rest of the movie was beautiful and brilliant and provided the perfect escape from reality. Its cult-like following is easily understandable.

However… I missed something. Something huge.

The hand-flex.


I read an article about how people are utterly obsessed with that moment in the film. The electricity, the excitement, the heat. The audacity of him to touch her hand to begin with, even if under the pretense of helping her step into the carriage. She’s Lizzy Bennet; she’s quite capable of managing by herself, thank you kindly Good Sir. But we know that, and Mr. Darcy certainly knows that–which means he touched her hand with the express intent of touching her hand. *gasp*

I won’t go into the social norms of the time; I barely understand the societal expectations of the era in which I live. I will delve into the fact the hand-flex speaks volumes about the characters and the story. And I missed it. Maybe I was reaching for my wine. Or the remote. Or my phone. Maybe I saw it and thought it meant something else; what, I don’t know–maybe he’d spilled the tea and his hands were sticky. Maybe he was shaking off the girl-cooties. I’d caught the snarky *af* curtsy at the beginning of the scene but missed the hand-flex.

I have never been good at subtext. Not ever. By nature, I’m a bit on the blunt side–although my intent is always the utmost affection and respect. I once discussed the importance of context with a fellow writer, going so far as to suggest removing all context from a piece would leave the interpretation completely up to the reader. He called it lazy writing. I called it interactive art. Arcs–both story and character; I get. Deep point-of-view? Yep. Show-don’t-tell? All over it. Subtext? I got nuthin’.

I bought a book on it–possibly more than one. Most everything I’ve read on it describes it as the words unsaid, or the meaning beneath the meaning. Now… I’m not altogether without intelligence, but none of this makes any sense to me. I’m starting to think the lessons on subtext are written entirely in subtext, in which case–kudos to those writers. Well played.

But I still don’t get it. The more I study, the more I start to worry my writing will be, in fact, too much on-the-nose and end up laughable at best. I know how to layer nuance with setting and description. I know which details to include to set the tone, and I can bury some Easter eggs in dialogue–but I have no idea if any of these counts as subtext.

Maybe this means I suck as a writer. Maybe this means I’ve been missing super-important details my whole life. Maybe this is why I’m so bad at dating–I interpret signs of magnetic attraction as a clear indication he thinks I have cooties. Or maybe I’m just over-thinking it.

Perhaps I’ll curl up with a warm blanket and some hot tea and watch Pride and Prejudice again. Keep my eyes open for the hand flex this time. Figure out what else I missed.

Published by Michelle

Mom. Writer. Mmmm... that's about it.

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