When they say writing is a channel to the quietest of your mind's chambers, they mean it in literal terms. It is one of the most amazing things about writing; you can say things that you want to but don't because you cannot.
But then, having your readers read between the words and connect with the true essence of your scripture is an even wholesome feeling.
A fine dialogue has two levels—what is said and what is meant or what is spoken and what is left to the reader's understanding. An unspoken dialogue, or subtext, is one of those top-notch methods to transform an average sentence into something that leaves your readers dazzled.
Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants is one of my all-time favorite pieces of creation that requires the readers to read between the lines.
In this story, Hemingway does not make the subject of the conversation between the couple clear. In fact, he expects his readers to insinuate the topic from what the two people say and how they say it. For me, it was not only what was left unsaid that made the story intriguing but how it was left.
Why Do Authors Find the Art of Unspoken Dialogues Difficult?
The experience of having your readers click with your subtext is like having your own secret little one-on-one whisper with them; it is lovely!
At the same time, the hardest thing for writers while writing is trusting the reader's gut to intuit the meaning from the unspoken. It only makes sense because you write for the readers and want them to connect with it on all levels. Most authors experience a block because they want the readers to be able to draw out the hidden meanings, as emotional resonance requires having them hooked to your text.
The art of saying the unsaid or subtexting is always subtle, but it gets very obvious once identified. However, every person will interpret it differently because it depends upon individual interactions and experiences. So, if you want to convey a particular message, you will have to be a little more careful while crafting your text.
Paint your picture with additional details about the setting or an elaborated context of the scene. You can also provide a subtextual insight into the character’s feelings by specifying gestures, tones, or actions. A detail as simple as a raise of an eyebrow can precisely convey a character's motives, thoughts, feelings, and conflicts or twists in a storyline.
Subtext and Implication
Both subtext and implication are powerful literary devices writers use to convey themes without being too obvious. They help them create layers of emotions and meaning in stories, thus enhancing the narrative depth.
It is hard to identify between the two, mainly because they coexist in cooperation with one another. When a story implies a mood or an idea, it weaves it into the fabric of subtext—an effective way to convey unspoken themes of a story. Such sentences are realistic but not direct or on the nose.
Irony or contrast can add an element of surprise, humor, or even tension to the dialogue. Silences, pauses, and gaps act as an elixir of suspense, mystery, and intense emotion. Questions, answers, statements, and interruptions help create ambiguity, confusion, doubt, or conflict.
Great fiction and non-fiction writers, screenwriters, and playwrights have used these storytelling techniques to cultivate work dense with meaningful themes and messages.
Intensifying Your Story's Plot
It is entirely the author's creativity in how they want to use the subtext to their benefit, but here are the three most common ways to do it:
- The privileged subtext builds suspense by revealing crucial information about the plot before any main character does. In simple words, we, the readers, are aware of something critical, but the characters are not.
For instance, imagine a man who has four missed calls from his wife. We, as readers, would feel tense because we know she is about to get murdered.
- The revelation subtext builds gradually with the layers of the narrative depth until the storyline finally unveils.
For instance, in The Widow's Second Chance, due to strange happenings, Chloe suspects Robert of hiding something from her. She remains uncertain until the plot unveils the moment of truth that her husband's ex-girlfriend was her enemy all along.
- The reader-based subtext or question subtext occurs when an author gauges the reader’s curiosity to answer questions about the plot or characters.
For instance, in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, the two protagonists had to solve a mystery cylinder in order to reveal some secrets. The author kept the mystery alive by disclosing just the right amount of information to convince the readers that they could beat Robert and Sophie in deciphering the clues.
Practicing the Art of Leaving Things Unsaid
Remember, it might sound easy while reading but feel different when practiced. Getting into each character's skin or headspace is a tedious and complicated task. Even seasoned writers need hours of practice before they can write a perfect subtext.
- Getting into your character's shoes will help you take into account all of the things they can do or say; thus, enabling you to write unspoken dialogues correctly. Get into their headspace and try thinking like them if they have a secret or are on a mission. You can ask questions and respond to yourself about how you think they would do.
- On the days when great ideas strike you effortlessly, do not suppress your creative juices and let them flow. Keep a small notepad with you and jot your ideas down so that you only have to fill the gaps later.
- Do not give all the information away all at once; use it as a dangling carrot to pique your reader's interest. Think of it like an iceberg; show them only enough to keep them hooked. The suspense factor helps the reading minds question and, hence, grow when they try to formulate theories to their queries.
- A great way to land yourself a fine unspoken dialogue is by practicing on a standalone excerpt from one of the larger pieces of your work. You can even create a scene and experiment with different verbal and nonverbal communication cues.
- Just like interpreting implied meaning depends on the reader's individual experiences, writing such sentences can also benefit from life experiences. So, sit back and write every instance of a hidden message you can recall or take inspiration from books you have read or TV shows you have watched.
The Power of Silence on a Page
In fiction, the essence of a character does not require descriptive and elaborate passages; sometimes, the authors use the power of silence to establish a plot around a character. Silence is one of the most effective creative writing tips for magnifying drama and intensifying emotion.
Authors like Kazuo Ishiguro have idealized silence to build tension around a character and in the atmosphere over action. In his book The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro shows one of his character's regrets exactly through the things he fails to say. The silence paints his losses, pain, lonely existence, rejection of love, and disillusionment better than words could have.
Apart from building tension, silence or pauses are some authors' way to spaces in the narrative for readers to soak up what happened. Arundhati Roy in The God of Small Things gives readers room to reflect on pivotal moments through long silences.
Unfortunately, our society favors extroverts and values actions and words more than quiet and private contemplation. However, the irony is that some of the most powerful moments in stories are when the characters embrace silence.
It leaves no doubt that, sometimes, silences exert the most compelling force and that not everything needs to be known. The readers get room to reflect on what has been left unaddressed and imagine what could happen if it was voiced.
Have a Look at This
Here is a tip to the art of writing an unspoken dialogue; do not force it from the start. First, write each sentence straightforwardly, as each character would outrightly say. When done, revisit the draft and change the words to make them sound different but mean the same. For instance:
"Hailey, I am scared you do not care about me like you used to."
"You know what, Justin? You are right. I do not care even the slightest about your existence. But I have to fake it so that our daughter does not feel like something is wrong."
"That really stings, but I guess I will have to accept and pretend I also do not care."
Unfortunately, real-life conversations are not as honest as this one, so we need to revisit this one and make appropriate changes, like:
"Hailey, are you here?" Justin snapped his fingers before her eyes. His heart pounding at how she had been silent all day.
"What? Umm, yes. Why would you have to wonder whether I care about you? I do not know what could have possibly made you feel otherwise." Hailey shifted her focus back to her phone screen. Her brows furrowed while watching a random makeup video playing on the screen.
Justin waited for more, but Hailey changed the topic.
"Hey, do you think we should order pizza for dinner?" she asked.
"Sure, whatever you like, sweetheart." He picked up the TV remote and started scrolling through the channels, staring blankly at the screen.
Well, you see here? Hailey did not say what she felt, and Justin did not complain. However, the tension between the two is plainly obvious and is there for the readers to sense.
Here's the Bottom-Line
You cannot expect dialogues in explicit and clear voices to create magic. How many times have you found yourself thinking about a dialogue from a movie, TV show, or book that the authors left to your imagination?
To some extent, every conversation has hidden meanings, conscious or unconscious motives, or clandestine agendas beneath the speaker's words. Unspoken words help create a lifelike connection between characters, like friends and acquaintances in real life would be aware of each other's unspoken requests.
Words become immortal when left open to interpretation because they become more real. So, the next time you write a piece, think of how you can shroud meaning under the words.
At The Urban Writers (TUW), we have thousands of writers who are experienced in creating perfect dialogues, whether it's a fictional novel or a script. Hiring a professional writer will help you create an impact using the right words on your readers.