Subtext The Most Critical Tool in the Storyteller’s Box

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“Oh, my God! She’s such a -!”

You completed that sentence, didn’t you?! I left a gap, and you filled it with knowledge from your own experience of life and people.

SUBTEXT – WHAT LIES BENEATH.

That, right there, is the secret to subtext:

  1. Writers leave gaps in knowledge.
  2. Readers project knowledge into those gaps.
  3. Subtext is the knowledge that goes into a gap.

Simple as that. And that knowledge that goes into the gap comes from the reader’s personal history and life experience. This is the secret to gripping story, and it’s the defining dynamic in every story ever made.

Table of contents
  • SUBTEXT – WHAT LIES BENEATH
  • “Oh, my God! She’s such a -!”
  • Creating Subtext
  • Jaws
  • The craft of storytelling
  • What is Story? FAQs

“Oh, my God! She’s such a -!”

Going back to my opening sentence, we’ll find out if ‘she’ is what you think she is, and if you correctly filled that gap, before the end of the article.
Writers are told that subtext is the ‘untold’ or ‘underlying’ story, and that stories must be delivered in subtext. Make no mistake – this is true. Without subtext, you literally have no story. However, what the great and the good fail to tell us is how in the world we are supposed to go about telling an ‘untold’ story? How do we bury our story in this way? How can I tell my story apparently without mentioning it?!
The reason it is tricky is this: a baker does not work with cakes. A baker works with ingredients and ovens and kitchen utensils. Their customers work with cakes. It’s the same with creating subtext. Writers do not work with subtext. Writers work with knowledge gaps in order that the reader receives the story in subtext. Your job, as a writer, is to create the conditions for subtext. That is the craft of storytelling.

Creating Subtext

When you craft into your story a difference in the knowledge held by different participants, you introduce a knowledge gap – and simultaneously create intrigue and engagement. This is most easily expressed from the audience or reader perspective:
If the audience knows more or less than any other participant in the story, you have story delivery in subtext.
“Oh, my God, she’s such a -!” The character saying these words knows what they think ‘she’ is. The receiver of this story does not, so we have generated subtext. There is a gap in knowledge (which you know I will fill by the end of the post) so grip and intrigue are generated.

Jaws

The power of Jaws (1977) was largely in the fear we have of ‘what lies beneath’. Even the poster you can see there – we know there’s a shark and there is danger, and the girl swimming does not. Simple, beautiful subtext.
The more arty, sophisticated stories demand more work of the audience in providing the subtext that goes into the gap. More obvious, less demanding stories leave smaller, more obvious gaps. It is part of your work as a writer to set that parameter. Let’s play a game. I’m going to give you a narrative scenario in subtext. See how much information I have to give you before you ‘get’ the scenario.
1. A parked car.
How is that working for you? Nothing? OK. I think we agree that nobody got my scenario from this. I have failed to create the conditions to trigger you into providing the right subtext. Let’s try again.
2. A car parked at a funny angle.
Hmm. Now we’re thinking but still not everyone has got what I’m driving at. Let’s try again.
3. A car parked at a funny angle, outside a bank.
Aha! Bingo! Now we have it. I successfully provided just the right amount of surrounding knowledge to trigger you to deliver the subtext into the gap I left.
I didn’t mention anything about a robbery, but you got there! I provided the conditions for subtext and you did the rest. Boom! THAT is the true craft of being a writer, right there.

The craft of storytelling

That is the craft of storytelling and the magic of subtext. The quantity, depth and persistence of knowledge gaps in your story directly relates to the ‘quantity’ of subtext the receiver has to provide to complete the story for themselves, and that will decide how well your story engages an audience.

“Oh, my God, she’s such a beautiful yacht! This is the best birthday EVER!”

This may be a slightly glib example of a knowledge gap creating subtext, but did it keep you reading to the end?!

All the best with your writing!
David

  • SUBTEXT – WHAT LIES BENEATH

That, right there, is the secret to subtext

  • “Oh, my God! She’s such a -!”

Is ‘she’ what you think she is, and if you correctly filled that gap, before the end of the article.

  • Creating Subtext

When you craft into your story a difference in the knowledge held by different participants, you introduce a knowledge gap.

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"David Baboulene’s insights into storytelling have been hugely helpful to our production. His in-depth understanding of plot, character motivation, and his theory of the ‘knowledge gap’ are both illuminating and valuable."
Gillan Williams Producer: Hosts (2020), Exit Plan (2016), Feed Me (2022)
"David has a unique approach to writing that includes the vital ingredient – marketing. Gone is the traditional do-it-yourself attitude. David shows you how to be complete, step-by-step, from the outset. I now have a contract for my thriller trilogy. Success is unlocked when David turns the key."
Ray C. Doyle Author: Lara's Secret
"We cannot recommend David Baboulene highly enough. His insights and expertise on story creation have been invaluable, helping us get the script of Hallo Joe to the point where we’ve sold the option and look forward to full production”
Mark Halliley Scriptwriter: Hello Joe
"David's research can benefit every writer on the planet. Once you have learnt David's revolutionary approach, you will find the proof of it in every single story you ever hear, read or watch, ever again, and you will never write in quite the same way again. David’s discoveries are a game changer for writers."
Kris Mole Author : Gatecrashing Europe
David’s love and understanding of story has elevated many of my scripts which have subsequently gone on to be produced and win awards. He’s a fantastic story consultant – encouraging and full of good ideas. I can’t imagine ever writing a script without asking David to read it."
Carolyn Goodyear: Multi-Award Winning Scriptwriter
"David has been invaluable in my story development. He has improved my screenwriting immensely, and has given me the tools I need to write the best possible stories."
Cheryl Neve: Writer/Director
"Meeting David was an epiphany for me. It did take me a month or two to fully grasp his advice, but when it did sink in and I started to write again, I just felt so much freer and infinitely more creative. My book is now complete, and I am so, so proud of it. I am now sitting here looking at two contracts to publish."
Steve Askham: Author: Life's a Peach! (2022)
"Uncertain Kingdom (2020) The insight that David brought to our project was invaluable. David was able to turn our script that was a compelling story attracting initial interest into a page turner of a screenplay. He is creatively inspiring while maintaining a kind, collaborative humility that should not be underestimated. Thank you so much David."
Hannah Stevenson Producer - Eaten by Lions (2019)
"Writer Story is based on the psychology in the conversation between an author and an audience. David brings the world genuinely new tools and methods that give you an objective and measurable understanding of how good your story is and clarity in how to improve it. Highly recommended."
Alex Marx:
"Author Every session provided another ‘eureka moment’ for me; another sudden insight into ways to improve my stories and find direction for me as a writer."
Lauraine Faulkner
"David's work can benefit every writer on the planet. A game changer for writers."
Kris Mole: Author Gatecrashing Europe
"Everyone who works in story industries needs to know what David Baboulene knows."
Alex Marx: Actor/Writer

What Writers say about David

"David Baboulene’s insights into storytelling have been hugely helpful to our production. His in-depth understanding of plot, character motivation, and his theory of the ‘knowledge gap’ are both illuminating and valuable."
Gillan Williams Producer: Hosts (2020), Exit Plan (2016), Feed Me (2022)
"David has a unique approach to writing that includes the vital ingredient – marketing. Gone is the traditional do-it-yourself attitude. David shows you how to be complete, step-by-step, from the outset. I now have a contract for my thriller trilogy. Success is unlocked when David turns the key."
Ray C. Doyle Author: Lara's Secret
"We cannot recommend David Baboulene highly enough. His insights and expertise on story creation have been invaluable, helping us get the script of Hallo Joe to the point where we’ve sold the option and look forward to full production”
Mark Halliley Scriptwriter: Hello Joe
"David's research can benefit every writer on the planet. Once you have learnt David's revolutionary approach, you will find the proof of it in every single story you ever hear, read or watch, ever again, and you will never write in quite the same way again. David’s discoveries are a game changer for writers."
Kris Mole Author : Gatecrashing Europe
David’s love and understanding of story has elevated many of my scripts which have subsequently gone on to be produced and win awards. He’s a fantastic story consultant – encouraging and full of good ideas. I can’t imagine ever writing a script without asking David to read it."
Carolyn Goodyear: Multi-Award Winning Scriptwriter
"Meeting David was an epiphany for me. It did take me a month or two to fully grasp his advice, but when it did sink in and I started to write again, I just felt so much freer and infinitely more creative. My book is now complete, and I am so, so proud of it. I am now sitting here looking at two contracts to publish."
Steve Askham: Author: Life's a Peach! (2022)

What Writers say about David

"David is truly a master when it comes to the science behind storytelling."
Craig Hinde: Producer/Director
"David is truly a master when it comes to the science behind storytelling."
Craig Hinde: Producer/Director
"Everyone who works in story industries needs to know what David Baboulene knows."
Alex Marx: Actor/Writer
"David's work can benefit every writer on the planet. A game changer for writers."
Kris Mole: Author Gatecrashing Europe
"Author Every session provided another ‘eureka moment’ for me; another sudden insight into ways to improve my stories and find direction for me as a writer."
Lauraine Faulkner
"Receiving a publishing deal was a dream turned reality. In my acknowledgement page is written: David Baboulene: I did it, and you are a heck of a teacher!"
Kerri Cuevas Author

"David Baboulene is a genius!"

Marc Zammit: Writer/Producer/Director

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Nick Wild: Writer/Producer/Director

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Craig Hinde: Writer/Producer/Director

What is Story? FAQs

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