I really find it truly baffling when people say we're crazy for seeing subtext. I like it's not even up for debate, it's a non-deniable writing tool. But it's also a part of every day life and interactions. I just think people don't realize it doesn't have to be deep or extreme, examples are all around you and you do it every day in order to communicate.
If subtext wasn’t a valid form of conveying information, there would be no such thing as humor. People wouldn’t tell each other jokes, because nobody would understand them nor find them funny.
Subtext isn’t some imaginary or made up or fake part of a story. It’s the “between the lines” stuff that writers DON’T have to say in words because they believe their audience is going to pick up on it and understand it anyway.
We all do it every single day, in real life. We’re walking through the grocery store and see a harried looking woman with three small children picking up a large sheet cake, a bunch of balloons and a large quantity of snack foods. We might assume that she’s hosting a party, possibly for one of the small children. A closer look at the balloons, one of which says HAPPY BIRTHDAY!, then a glance at three children who seem to be about the same age and resemble one another to a startling degree, as well as a glance at the cake decorated with the words “Happy Birthday John, Mike, and Larry” and you’d probably feel pretty safe saying something to the little boys like, “Happy birthday guys! I hope you have a great time at your party!” and then offer some words of support and congrats to their mom.
ALL OF THAT WAS INFO YOU GLEANED FROM READING SUBTEXTUAL CUES. HUMAN BRAINS DO THIS 24/7.
And writers RELY on this fact.
They rely on our intrinsic understanding of human behavior, our ability to connect some of the dots in a story, to be able to “read between the lines.” In television and movies, they further rely on the actors’ skill to convey additional subtextual cues through body language and facial expressions and tone of voice. They rely on the director interpreting lines and scenes and capturing the right tone and feel of every shot. They rely on lighting and costuming and editors and vfx artists and musicians to bolster the feeling they’re trying to convey in every scene.
All of this adds layers to the subtext that human brains are capable of understanding and interpreting, because we’ve been exposed to this sort of storytelling and information-gathering our entire lives.
Even right now, I can hear someone in the kitchen. I hear the faucet running and silverware clattering. I can assume that Mr. Mittens is in there doing dishes. I don’t have to walk into the kitchen and see that for myself to prove it. I have more than enough subtextual evidence that I feel confident in wagering money that he’s washing the dishes. And yep, there’s the dishwasher drawer clanking too hard. If someone else was here, they’d likely draw the same conclusion. Unless they were being deliberately obtuse.
That’s how subtext works. The dishwashing currently happening in my kitchen isn’t any less valid because I’m merely inferring it from an overwhelming amount of indirect evidence, you know? Those dishes are still getting washed even if Mr. Mittens isn’t announcing his every move with words, narrating the entire event clearly to make it real. :P