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Monday, November 28, 2011

Subtext Revisisted

In my research for my characterization book, I've come across another theory of what we writers call subtext. In transactional analysis, transactions between people can be one of 3 things:

2) Crossed (the ego state of one character is thwarted by a different ego state of another character)
3) Covert (SUBTEXT)

A covert transaction is when a person says one thing and means another. The transaction has a social (overt) and a psychological (covert) level. Here's an example of each:


Boss: "Let's work late, Ms. Parker, and I'll buy you dinner."
Secretary: "That's a good idea. We have a lot of work to do."


David: "I love your smile, Denise. Let's have dinner and drinks, and really get to know each other."
Denise: "I thought you'd never ask, David. I've wanted to go out with you for a long time." 

Basically, the social level is useless in determining what people are really going to do. David's mom would expect to reach him at the office in the evenings based on the social level of their conversation. But if she knew the psychological level of the relationship, she would know to call the local hotel if she wanted to reach her son. 

The reason we say one thing and mean another is because we are generally ashamed of our Child's wishes and desires. These are our immature impulses (in Freud's language, our Id). Nevertheless, we act on these desires while we pretend to be doing otherwise. David's transaction with Denise on the social level was very appropriate-sounding to others who might be listening in. But he was using his social conversation to mask his true Child's desire of wanting to date his secretary, who should be off-limits.

Other ways of socially trying to throw people off our true psychological desires are to use smiling sarcasm instead of directly expressing anger. Or to attack others instead of admitting our fears. These are all examples of covert transactions. 

In therapy, transactional analysts encourage people to be "straight" with one another and themselves about their wants and feelings, rather than covert. But then, if this happened in fiction, it would be most boring. :)

Let's analyze: Any other common examples of covert transactions you want to throw out there?