Mapping Subtext by Using Thematic Coordinates



The aim of the article is to discuss the notion of subtext in cinematic dialogue and to sketch a map of the main types of subtext, drawing on the principles common to the narrative theories elaborated by Robert McKee (1998), John Truby (2007), Dara Marks (2006), and Chris Vogler (1992). A pivotal concept in my argument will be the one of theme, as it is explained in the main screenwriting textbooks: the theme of a story is intimately connected to the protagonist’s change in relation to the values at stake. A theme consists of the values that inspire the deep dramatic construction of the character – the moral need that defines him. Building on the importance of the moral flaw of the protagonist, I will identify four types of subtext, depending on whether it lies more in the flaws of the protagonist or in a hidden agenda he has, and on whether subtext is or is not shared by all the characters in the scene. In particular, I will discuss the emotional density of subtext when it stems from the moral flaw of the protagonist and when it is not shared with other characters. This happens when the writer uses dramatic irony and plays with the idea of fate.


Dialogue in Screenwriting StudiesSubtextNarrativeRhetoricDramatic Irony
  • Year: 2019
  • Issue: 13
  • Page/Article: 51-69
  • DOI: 10.18573/jomec.187
  • Published on 4 Feb 2019
  • Peer Reviewed