Communication depends on the relationship of the characters

Karalee’s Post # 94

One of my running friends sent me this cartoon and it struck me that what is being communicated is completely dependent on the relationship between those speaking.

The characters in this cartoon have an intimate relationship and what the man says and what the woman perceives he is saying don’t match at all. As readers we laugh at the interchange, but it is a technique (subtext) that writers often use to add depth to their characters and stories.

cartoon it never ends

In writing, we can take advantage of the relationships between our characters whether through family connections, professions, how well they know one another, and what their motivations are in the conversation.

The above cartoon would be different if these two people had just met and were starting to date, or if it were between two women or two men. It would also depend on how well they knew one another, if they worked together, if they have mutual friends etc.

Another way a character can communicate is by saying one thing when he/she really means something else. In other words, the character is lying. There are a million reasons why a character may do this. For it to be effective the author must let the reader be aware of the lie and the reasons behind it (although not necessarily at the same time).

How do you take advantage of subtext in your writing?

Happy writing!

5 thoughts on “Communication depends on the relationship of the characters

  1. Karalee–thanks for the fun and thought-provoking illustration. So what IS the subtext between these two? I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on that. To me, on the surface, there is misunderstanding. Or is she passive-aggressive? Is she insecure? Both? The last conversation would indicate that whatever passive-aggressiveness, assuming she’s not stupid, is a cover for insecurity. Or is she, as Karalee described, a liar–that she knows full well what he is asking and is making a power grab by throwing it back on him (passive-aggressive).

    If this cartoon was part of a written story, more subtext could be developed, more suspense generated, by knowing their pasts and therefore allowing the POV character to think, plot subterfuge or another interior goal, by showing relevant, meaningful objects in the setting (the room–her room–has an elliptical, weights, etc., so his motives would come into question)… I love subtext and think it is often left out of scenes and left out of writing instruction.

    • Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for your comments. Yes, writing can be at so many levels that it’s always an interesting challenge to get the depth that is best to tell the story.

  2. Reblogged this on sherriemiranda1 and commented:
    This article and cartoon should give you much to think about, not only in your writing, but in real life. I was a bit like the woman in my last marriage. Thanks God that’s over and my 3rd (& las) husband and I always find ways to say we love each other. We never play games like this (or maybe I should say “I never play . . .”?) He does try to get me to laugh and I can not explain why I am so serious. Maybe I was born that way. 😉

    • Thanks so much for your comments and for sharing my post Sherrie. I find that every so often I come across information that hits a chord and makes me ask myself why I do what I do. This help in my life in general and in applying it to developing characters and relationships in my writing.

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