There are many “subliminal” messages we are “treated to” every day. Even if, like me, you don’t watch TV to escape them, they’re still there. I can’t tell you how many damn times I’ve watched a “public good” ad online about taking to teens about sex and had to run out to buy a burger. Wait, wha? Well, those ads always seem to take place at the dinner table and families always eat either chicken or beef. Come to think of it, I eat way too much beef. Humans should only have about 4 ounces a week, and I seem to eat 8 ounces every other day. Um, why? Oh, yeah: take a look at what people eat in movies or on shows or in ads. Count the beef sometime. The only mystery is why we real people who eat like that have so much heart disease, yet it’s so rare in fictional universes. 



Funny, most subliminal advertising puts sex into food

 

I could bore you with the history of advertising, propaganda, and psychology, but it would take too long. It’s a long, dark, winding road on which you are the victim and most don’t know it. If you ever wondered why a PhD in Psychology like me could hate her field so much, watch that series. There’s a reasons I keep my degrees in boxes in my leaky basement, shame demands most things be locked away. 

However, hidden themes and messages can be good. If they didn’t exist in fiction would your high school English teachers have a job? Would book clubs exist? Would you ever be able to read and re-read a book and walk away with something different each time, reading it in different life stages? So, is it a writer’s responsibility to put these in? Again you have to ask yourself what you’re writing. Do you want something that’s literary fast food, something for people to buy in the airport and take along holiday? Or do you want to write something that sings to their souls and inspires them? 



So in another ten years I'l get that this is about standing up to peer pressure? And in college I'll think it's about embracing counter-culture? Ok, whateves


If you said the latter, keep reading. If you said the former, go read Joan Collins’ Love, Desire & Hate. No, not her sister Jackie, Joan, the actress. Even I enjoy disposable books sometimes and you know what? Joan writes them better than her sister. Hell, read anything that was popular in the 70’s in American literature and you’ll see how to write holiday books. For those of you who want to write something deeper, here’s the basic way you do it, combining with other strong elements: subliminal messages.  

A great example has to be The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. I love, love, love that book for innumerable reasons, but one is that Nick & Nora are swingers. Wait, wha? Do they ever come out and say it? No, not outright, but think of how often Nick tells us Nora is off gallivanting with a handsome young man, and he doesn’t mind, for he’s got a young, beautiful, but nutso dish of his own. Why was this in there? Well, in short, Dashiell was a swinger. His longtime love, Lillian Hellman the playwright, and he swung with the best. In his Continental Op books (which I also love, love, love) critics cite as being a little more on the disposable side because the Op is 100% fiction, versus with The Thin Man Dashiell started to put himself more into his heroes, the most famous of all is Sam Spade. Dashiell used Nick and Nora to share his view on something he believed in that society as a whole was ignoring.  

Toni Morrisson writes so many good things, I have a total girl-crush on her. However, The Bluest Eye is a supreme example of the greatest level of writing for many reasons. Race relations and sexual abuse take the forefront in it, but through it all in the background, subliminally if you will, there is a note of feminism. Some authors pound you over the head with the Joss Whedon-esque tough girl who defies laws of logic and call it feminism. Morrison shows you the true real strength of a woman is not in the strength of her punch but in her ability to adapt and find her own inner strength by nurturing those around her. Sorry ladies, I myself am a black belt and a touch chick, but I still feel there are rules for women and men that are equal but different, and I do feel if you don’t realize this you’re kidding yourself. Masculine and feminine strength are just different. So, do you see that in my writing? If you’re familiar with it, look really, really hard and you will. Say what you want but I’d be happy to live in a world where I have to wear dresses or skirts every day and be gracious, so long as men always hold doors and pulled out chairs for me, and are otherwise chivalrous. Because of this I’m often told I’m not a feminist, and to that I say “fuck you.” In my philosophy nowhere do I say one sex is smarter or better, we’re just different and complimentary and I wish the world still recognized it. It’s why the figures of the Goddess and God occur so often in my writing, the oldest gods, the first, the sun and moon, male and female. Once, we humans understood the balance, and I believe we’ve lost a lot when we turned out backs on it. 




 
Read these for the master class on good subliminal writing. Machiavelli and Sun Tzu are the tomes for propoganda


That’s one of many off-beat beliefs I personally hold and they are in my writing, but I don’t jam them down your throat. Why not? Would you enjoy an erotic story quite as much if I slammed you in the face on every page with the idea that men & women go together like yin & yang? Now for those of you who read Case Of The Missing Millionaire you won’t find my thoughts on men & women, but you will find other tastes of my personal beliefs. 

One thing my critique partners and editors most commented on was “why do you mention it’s 2001 three times? Why does 9/11 come up?” Well, in short, if you remember the world before and the world after, particularly for us Americans, there is a clear dividing line, and nothing is the same. I admit it may be more personal for me, as my Godmother was killed in the attacks, but I do see it as a general dividing line for American history. Many things I was taught as a child (I was raised an anarchist) are coming to pass and I want more people to realize it. However, coming right out and saying things like “there is no difference between democrats and republicans, voting is a joke, and the bill of rights is dead” while true, make people look at me odd. They learned something different as kids. And while I have mounds of evidence on my side, I don’t want to alienate people with it. And so my beliefs are injected as subliminal. 

You’ll notice in all my writing no one ever votes, no one ever discusses paying taxes, and if anyone ever worked for the government they left in disgust and don’t trust it. Almost everyone meets the legal definition of a criminal, but many in the Jean Valjean way: legal don’t mean right. If you’re a writer you have a story to tell. What you have to realize is that everyone has a story to tell. This is why your family and friends are always telling you theirs. This is why fanfiction and slashfiction are so popular. The horrible truth is anyone can tell a story. Like singing, anyone can do it, but few can do it well. It takes a combination of natural talent and years of training to rise to summit of your craft, and it takes a strong belief in yourself. 




 
Yeah, my beliefs are something like this


Ask yourself what your beliefs are. Do you believe truly in a God or gods? Do you believe that professional sports are insane? Do you believe breastfeeding is horribly misunderstood? There is no right or wrong here: they are your beliefs. Agreeing or disagreeing with mine can’t change what I believe and the same is true for you. Simply remember as a writer you have an interesting opportunity: any moron can die for an idea, but living for one is hard. As a writer not only can you live for your ideas, but your characters can live for them long after you’re just a pile of dust. 

However, if you want people to keep reading your stories that long, you have to keep them subliminal. Mention them lightly. Hammett had Nick & Nora just do the fucking swinging but never named it, labeled it, or got into details. Douglas Adams made us laugh, but it wasn’t until most people read Last Chance To See they realized his  main argument was that your stupidity will always play out ten-thousandfull on the word around you and you, yes, little insignificant you do have to ability to change the world. James Joyce never shouted in The Dubliners that the human experience is about lurking in the muck and enjoying perversions, that our dark sides are the true great equalizers of humanity, but that’s what’s at the heart. 



Rudyard Kipling in his library. Are you getting it? The subliminal message of this post? Great writers READ!

 

Here is where the motto “show don’t tell” is vital. Show your characters doing things that relate to your beliefs, don’t tell the reader what the beliefs are. Hate TV like me? Make sure your characters never watch it or ever talk about it. Think your culture is too puritanical about sex? Write your characters enjoying it and show how a lot of spiritual realizations about ourselves come only from sexual congress with others. Think popular music is soul-sucking shit? Make your characters only listen to the genres you like. Think we should be vegetarians? Have your characters eat good meat-less food and eschew leather or fur, but never spout off and jump up on the soapbox. Overt statements of belief alienate, subliminal entice. It’s what every evil propagandist and every good mentor both know. 



 
This is the KFC Snacker. take a wild guess how much it costs. Subliminal messages are everywhere, and most of them are creepy (you never save money when you spend it, but this convinces your subconscious you do). Let's use their evil tools for good.



A good story is richly layered, and your personal beliefs are the undercurrent. You should have one overriding goal of the story, the answer to “so why am I reading this?” but if you include subliminal messages of your beliefs you make it something for the reader to come back to time and time again. Think of it as the adult jokes in Pixar movies: as a kid you didn’t get them (if you're young enough to have first watched them as s kid), but rewatch now and you laugh even more. For fun I will be re-writing my erotic story James the Butler, and the main subliminal messages are (spoiler alerts): most people have bi-sexual tendencies within, the media is evil, and Hugo Chavez ain’t such a bad guy after all. Not bad for a story about a woman fucking half the city of Chicago including several foreign imports. Bonus: the character “James The Butler” is an old one, and my character/title were a nod to it as an everyman. Yes, all this works within an erotic piece, but they have to be subtle. That’s your job as the writer. Remember being a writer means creating a universe wherein you’re God, and what God could let a world be one-dimensional?