Have a question about writing? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, using the subject line, “Question For The Panel”. A panel of Kingdom Pen writers will then attempt to answer the questions you email to us on the website the last Saturday of every month.
Here are some past questions, and how we answered them:
I’ve been hearing a lot about subtext, how using it correctly can really help your story. But there seem to be a lot of conflicting ideas about subtext and what it is—can you guys clear up some of the confusion for me?”
A lot of people view subtext as an “advanced writer’s tool” that can only be fully understood after having completed three novels, purchased a platinum membership on one of the more prestigious writing forums, and learned the top-top-secret Novelist’s Fistbump. I disagree. Subtext is an organic element of storytelling that you’ve probably always known about to some extent, but that will take a lot of work and conscious thought to master.
At its most basic level, subtext is the meaning that lies underneath your character’s words and actions. Your character says one thing, but means another—and the subtext peeps out from what he’s saying, revealing his true thoughts and motives. Sometimes this is on an unconscious level, and the reader doesn’t really understand what he’s really saying until later, when the story events suddenly make everything make sense. At other times, the subtext is a little less subtle and instantly discernible, but it’s still subtext.
A stellar (and not-so-subtle) example of this is in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, where George Bailey violently denounces any intentions of having any kind of romantic feelings for Mary, who retorts that she really couldn’t care less, and that if he feels that way, why doesn’t he just leave town and travel like he’s always wanted to. Through the subtext, we as viewers get a much better feel for the characters’ true motives and emotions then if they just cheerily announced that they were crazy about each other and didn’t want to live life apart.
Subtext is too complex a topic to really talk about in-depth in this column—whole books have been written about it. But hopefully this will give you a place to get started from, and will dispel some of the confusion you’ve had on the subject. A full understanding and mastery of subtext will bring a whole new dimension to your characters and their story.
– Braden Russell
When writing stories about Bible characters, do I have to adhere absolutely to the facts or can I use some imagination? It’s quite hard because the Bible does not contain many facts about a particular person.
My short answer is, yes, you can use some imagination, because you have to. Like you said, details are lacking. What facts there are, you must adhere to, but there is a lot that isn’t said, and allows for flexibility.
My long answer is that attempting to add facts or events to Biblical peoples’ lives is risky. You are straying from the truth, which could potentially confuse your readers as to what the truth really is. One example of this is in the famous book Paradise Lost by John Milton. Many commonplace ideas about Christianity come from that book, even though it is not scripture. Therefore, I probably would not even write a historical fiction novel using real Biblical people, as I would be too concerned about misrepresenting them, and thus, confusing others’ understanding of what they were really like. But if you’re set on using the events and characters recorded in the Bible, why not just change the names and locations? The Passagesbooks by the creators of Adventures In Odyssey are a great example of this, and they made for very compelling books, even for a 12-year-old me who did not like reading at the time.
– Reagan Ramm