Think about the last time someone was…
Angry with you?
Irritated by you?
Nervous to see you?
Excited to see you?
What the person was thinking and feeling is called subtext. It’s what’s going on underneath (sub) their words (text). Angry/pleased/irritated/nervous/excited…
Now think about what that person actually said…
Did it sound like this?
I am so angry with you!
I am so pleased with you!
I am so irritated with you!
I am so nervous to see you!
I am so excited to see you!
In dialogue writing, this is called façade – the idea that there’s a gap between what people say and what people feel and mean when they talk in real life. And as writers of dialogue, we should try to emulate that gap. It makes things interesting. It creates tension in our writing.
Here’s what Heather Sellers has to say about facade in The Practice of Creative Writing:
“Dialogue in creative writing works best when it is used not to announce a character’s thoughts or direct desires, but to contradict them and create a gap, a false front. Dialogue-action units let you juxtapose what’s said with what’s done; façade helps you broadcast the gap between what someone says and what they really think or want.
When people talk to us in real life, they hint at things and focus on side issues, they beat around the bush. Usually, every conversation that is interesting has several levels. People have agendas.
Façade, layered on top of dialogue-action units, is the technique writers use to keep the tension levels in dialogue high.
Notice how the following student plays with the idea of subtext and exaggerates the concept of facade by giving her character an “anger translator”:
Prom — Girlfriend
Hey, you’re with that stupid, ugly, ungrateful, weird, out of luck guy.
You’re with that stupid ugly, ungrateful, weird, out of luck guy?
Yes I am. You used to be with him, right?
Why, why do you need to know, mind your business, girl; that’s probably why he left you…
Yeah, but you guys look great together. Nice dress by the way…… what a coincidence.
She wants to be like me so darn bad it’s just plain out ridiculous…….. I look better in it anyways and they look like a fool together.
Thanks so much, I appreciate your compliments. You know, some girls can be so jealous and mad when their boyfriends break up with them.
Girlfriend………. Ex-girlfriend….. Like why is she so interested in me and Johnson? (Laughs) She’s extremely pressed and insecure.
Yeah (laughs) not me, I could never be. I think we just weren’t made for one another. Plus, there’s so many benefits as a single young girl.
I am mad, I am pretty darn mad! You over me? You don’t even compare (laughs) you’re like a joke in my eyes sweetie.
Sounds great you have a lot at stake and yeah maybe so….. But I’ll never know…… I am in love with Johnson and he said he wants to get married.
No one even likes this girl…… she’s so irrelevant and hard to even be with she should just stop!
Oh did he really? That’s beyond adorable I am so happy for you guys. I’d be right there clapping for you both and your journey.
He would never say anything like that, he probably doesn’t even really like this girl……. He’s just desperate to make me mad.
Aw, you’re the sweetest.
Why are we even communicating… We have nothing to talk about and she’s not like me………. I’m educated, beautiful and confident and I mean she’s just… She’s just Johnson’s (ex) girlfriend.”
Yeah, well, great talking to you, I’ll see you sometime around the school or world or something.
I hope I never see you again…….. I hope he breaks up with you and comes back to me.
Thank you too and of course we will!
No, we will never see each other again, I do not like you, what you’re about or how you act — next time see me be on the cover of a magazine with my ring on.”
Do you every wish YOU had an anger translator? What would he/she say?