Customer Reviews: Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath
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on September 17, 2011
So here's the thing: even though the shelves of libraries - and indeed my own shelves too - groan under the weight of writing books, there are precious few books dealing with Subtext as an exclusive subject. A few other books provide a chapter's worth of material to the matter, but if you're looking for a book on Subtext, you'll have to choose between this one and Charles Baxter's The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot. And, in my opinion, you'd be better served by getting Baxter's book.

Now, to be fair, Baxter deals with subtext in literature, and Seger deals with subtext in film, so this emphasis may color your appreciation of the books, and certainly colored mine. Seger's book came off as excessively chatty, too-prone to digression, and simply not "How To" enough to make up for those weaknesses. Baxter's book came off as fascinating, literate, and insightful.

That said, for the price of a book, Seger provides some instructive examples and a useful enough taxonomy of ways to communicate subtext. So I'd recommend buying it. Remember, there are really only two books on the subject, and this is still a useful volume. If you consider yourself a professional writer, buying two paperbacks on a topic is a pretty easy expense to justify. But I wouldn't be deceived by the lavish praised heaped upon this volume, as it really aint all that. And when judged against other writing books out there, it's not one I'd classify as first rate.

****Update as of 21 AUG 2012 -- New book to recommend as an addition or substitute for this one: Catherine Brady's Story Logic and the Craft of Fiction. Probably one of the best writing books I've come across, and an even better book on Subtext than Baxter's, in my opinion.***
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on May 10, 2011
My wife and I have something we call "wife speak." On an occasional evening, she will ask me: "Do we have any ice cream?" I could easily say "yes" or "no" but what she's really asking is: "Can you check if we have ice cream, grab a bowl, scoop out a scoop - but not too much, drizzle some chocolate sauce on it and bring it to me?" The first question is subtext - the second question is "on the nose."

It was with great anticipation when I opened up Linda Seger's book "Writing Subtext" - first because her book "How to Make a Good Script Great" is in my top three of favorite screenwriting books. The second was that I was looking for a book on subtext. It's one of the hardest things to explain to fledgling screenwriters (and to some not-so-fledgling screenwriters, too).

The way I've always described subtext is: "This is what your movie is REALLY about." When "The Deer Hunter" came out (in 1977!) I read a letter to the editor that described it as a terrible film about guys who get drunk and hunt deer. Obviously this person was looking at the film only on a surface level - not what it was REALLY about: love, sacrifice, friendship.

Linda Seger, though, rips the subtext out of those two basic concepts. Where I looked at subtext only in the items of dialogue and "what the story is about" she actually takes it much further. Relating subtext to both those basic concepts but also taking it the levels of gestures and actions, images and metaphors and even genres. And, honestly, I've never really looked at that way - but created it nonetheless.

In the third week of my class - I have a class called "Showing Character" - it is this class where we explore all the various opportunities the writer has in using visual clues to show character. Everything from clothing, tattoos, cars, etc. I had never thought of it as subtext - just what you do when you create characters. Redefining it as subtext is brilliant, though, because that's what you're REALLY doing. So many scripts I've read where the writer writes: "Joe drives up in a car." WHAT KIND? "Julie watches TV." WHAT SHOW? "Bill has a tattoo on his upper arm." WHAT OF?

Ms. Seger does a great job sprinkling multiple film examples throughout her book. But I'll suggest a few more: "Rear Window" has amazing subtext in the first 3 minutes. The beginnings of the film "The Breakfast Club" and "The Big Chill" also do a masterful job getting across multiple characters in very quick succession. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: This is when writing really becomes fun - where you have the story on one level but then, under the surface, into the depths of the subtext you have where the story really becomes alive and real and amazing.

Finally a book that teaches the writer how to use subtext to tell their story, not only through dialogue but through actions as well. This is a book that will truly bring life to your screenplay and turn your possible good script into a potentially GREAT script.

Final note: of course, when I ask my wife if there is any ice cream my usual subtext is: "Are we going to `cuddle' tonight?" But then she just brings me a bowl of ice cream...maybe I should use less subtext.
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on September 7, 2011
This is a book, like Will Dunne's "The Dramatic Writer's Companion", that is inexplicably directed (marketed) at screenwriters and playwrights. The exercises in Dunne's book are fantastic, and powerful because he has you directing them at your own writing, rather than abstract situations provided by the author.

I feel very much the same way about this book, "Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath". I also read Charles Baxter's "The Art of Subtext," which is directed at fiction writers. It was interesting, but I don't recall much of it. In this book, Linda Seger has delved so deeply into the psychology of subtext, pulling as many examples from real life as from screenplays, that anyone who creates fictional worlds will benefit from reading it.

I suppose one could say that the fact I find these books more useful means I am probably more of an aspiring screenwriter than a novelist, but I am not. The novel I am currently working on is far too quiet and internal to be of interest to any producer, and that's just fine with me. This book has brought me to a place where I am now listening for subtext in my everyday life, my own as well as that of others.

Congratulations to Ms. Seger for producing a clearly stated text on the not-clearly stated.
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on August 13, 2012
What a disappointment! I was looking for a book covering this subject, and as this was only one of two with a title alluding to the subject, this was my first choice. (It had a few more positive comments, and 180 pages vs. 120)

I cannot question the fact that Linda Seger might be the creator of the profession of Script Consultant, but she certainly cannot teach.

The book has very little actual how to information, and what there is, is repeated over and over again, each time in just a slightly different form. The examples are feeble at best.

After this book, I started reading another "How to" book on writing, this time a Writers Digest book - Dialogue - by Gloria Kempton. In the introduction alone I got more ideas and information than I got from the whole of Linda Seger's book. I would go so far as to say that spread over the Writers Digest series "Write great fiction" or "Elements of fiction writing" you will get a lot more info on this subject, and each one on its own a good guide on it's specific subject.

I have not yet read it, but a possible alternative could be - Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Creative Writing - by Jessica Morrell. (304 pages) And it is a Writers Digest book, which does count something in my opinion.

PS. I'm starting to see a pattern with all the "how to write fiction" books I have read - anything less than 250 pages means that there is either not very much to the subject, or the author doesnt really have a lot to teach.
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on February 2, 2013
The biggest weakness of Seger's writing is that she never expands on her examples. She merely does some lead up, drops an example and moves on without explaining the mechanics at work. Seger also copies and pastes large portions of her book "Creating Unforgettable Characters" which just seems lazy to me considering the books were written 20 years apart. Surely she had enough time to develop or at least rewrite those portions. The book is a decent intro to subtext but ironically the text is fairly shallow.
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on August 2, 2011
I bought this as a gift for my film school daughter. She is finishing other books on screenwriting that I purchased through Amazon right now so has not read Mr. Brady's book yet. I, however, have started to read it and really enjoy it! I am a retired professional and enjoy learning the techniques to writing subtext. I will enjoy shows and movies more now by better understanding the process and ultimate product of a GOOD story on the small or large screen.
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on December 9, 2015
as a writer this book was a good read to start thinking of ways to introduce subtext in my stories, powerful stuff. IF I remember correctly, it gives you more of a game plan to think for yourself, what you want to say, and how to use context in your subtext in an intelligent way with many examples thoughout the book, in fact, since it's been a while i need to find this book and read it again.
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on August 10, 2015
Maybe I'm not a fair reviewer of this book. Because it seems whatever Linda Seger writes, I like. Usually, a lot.
She never fails to write in elucidating prose what writers need to hear about the writing craft. I learned more about subtext in the first forty or fifty pages than I did in a writing class.
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on January 7, 2015
I really liked how it fit into my discussion of indirect communication in my dissertation. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for clarity on the idea of subtext. It is well-written and very interesting.
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on July 9, 2012
I highly recommend this book since it is one of the few that specifically deal with subtext. The book is well built up on what subtext is, and how it can be used in different ways. It is full of examples, from both film and literature. I found this very useful as an addition in my literature and notes on the craft of writing. With this book, you can become more aware of the power of subtext and how to use it effectively to give your story more depth. It is a great read too for anyone who is not an aspiring writer but simply interested in the subject.
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