I'm sorry. It's been a long week, and once I started down the rabbit hole of Bill Hader gifs, I got stuck like a .gif on repeat.
So why doess Bill Hader breaking character make me want to laugh harder, even when a joke is (relatively) stupid? It could be his face, it could be the fact that it's not 100% clear if he's laughing or crying, but in my opinion, it's because you get a membership into the backstage of SNL. I think watching an actor break character, or seeing someone's mask slip, is like meeting the real them, it's seeing something not presented. It's subtext.
I've recently become an expert at reading subtext. (At least in emails. From Agents. Saying no.) so I do feel confident in explaining what subtext is.
It's the lies the reader creates for herself, the secrets the author doesn't tell, and it's the truth hiding behind the fiction. Subtext is the work the reader does to make the story theirs, and if you fill in every blank, then you've taken up all the space the story has. The reader can not make the story their own, because you've been hoggin it.
So since subtext is the prize hidden at the bottom of a box of story, here are the rules (IMO) for using subtext correctly.
Only keep secrets that are not vital to the story itself.
In my novel FUNNY TRAGIC CRAZY MAGIC, I wrote a twist ending that not every reader got.
And because I'm evil, it kind of makes me happy. Those who understand the twist ending are in a membership of a club that I made, and how cool is that? However, because it affected the plot, many readers just didn't get or like the ending, which made them like the story less as a whole. So... Use subtext on things not directly involved in the plot.
Use Subtext to keep character's secrets safe, but DO make all their motivations based on this.
You can keep a character's secrets, but you have to make those secrets matter, and influence the character's choices, otherwise they don't exist. Make it clear enough the smart readers can guess, and realize that all readers are smart.
Use subtext to make the reader care.
You know how ET was actually a puppet, yet you sobbed when you watched him die?
That's because of the work you put in as audience to believing that he was real. When he died, he really died, because your belief died. When you use subtext, the reader becomes emotionally invested in these characters. They become real, because the reader created parts of them, and when they are part of the creation, they are part of the story.
Some helpful links.