Thursday, May 11, 2006

When readers get it wrong...

I take pride in writing fantasies that can be read on several levels. If you look, there is more there than just a great (I hope) story.

So what do I do when I see a reader's comment that says something like, "A good entertaining story, but no great depth"? Get all huffy and mutter about readers that can't see past the drip on the end of their noses?

And what about the opposite: the reader who talks about the deep dark meaning of my work and how I have commented on the connections between Donald Rumsfeld, the Da Vinci Code and the melting of the icecaps? (And no; no such book or reader exists...yet.)

Once a writer's work gets out there into the public domain, what happens to it is largely beyond their control. And no matter how a reader might have mangled the subtler meaning, the writer has to grin and bear it - and to a degree sometimes even take the blame. Perhaps your writing lacked the clarity you thought it had?

Mostly though, I don't think that's the point. Each reader takes something different from a writer's work. Perhaps the book did no more than entertain them for an hour or two. Perhaps it made them think about deeper issues of morality and ethics. Maybe it made them re-examine their politics, their environmental concerns, their relationship with their significant other, or how they feel about their dog. Perhaps it made them happier. Perhaps it even inspired them. And the writer will never know these things unless the reader sends an email or a letter or writes a review.

What does matter is this:
The writer has tried to let others see the world through the lens of his own eye. Each writer brings his own joys/fears/politics/ethics/morality to his writing. If, for a moment in time, the reader has been transported somewhere else, to see ( figuratively or literally) something they would not have seen otherwise, then the writer has done part of his job. If the picture the reader sees is not quite the one that you the writer intended, well - at least you have made them think. And that can never be a bad thing.

So if the reader doesn't "get" what I have written, I smile, maybe learn something, and move on. I'm just glad there are people out there who read my work.

7 comments:

Kendall said...

Great post, and I agree. Everyone brings their own baggage to reading (or writing) and everyone takes something a little different away from the experience.

Recently, I was thrilled hear from an author (who I'd e-mailed about her book) that my 'take' on her book was pretty much just what she was trying to say. Woo-hoo! I "got it"! But I was surprised, since I generally believe I don't 'get' the deeper stuff an author's trying to convey. (Maybe I should trust my reading abilities more. ;-)

I hope you get the "yes, this person got it!" moments -- not just the "woah, that person missed that?!" moments. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I think as readers we are on a journey through a collective creative energy. To move forward, we latch onto the things we need while other things simmer in the subconscious. Writers can and should nuture, push, direct, give pause, even halt the readers through this journey.

Kylie Seluka

Glenda Larke said...

Kendall - I bet she was thrilled as well.

Yes, I get both those moments - both are fine with me, as long as the reader enjoyed the book.

Anon: That's exactly right. The thing that writers have to watch out for, though, is that they don't get so carried away with a "message" or an agenda or a belief that it becomes the focus, to the detriment of story.

If a writer wants to preach about anything at all, then they should write non-fiction. If they want to include a message in their fiction, then it should be an integral part of the story and never the focus of it. It's all about balance...

Anonymous said...

Yes. That is what I have discoverd too. My earlier attempts at writing were directed by 'the message'. Fortunately my writing has progressed and is now driven by the characters and story. Any message is for the reader to draw out based on their own perceptions.
But I still find many of my characters are vegetarians!

Kylie Seluka

Glenda Larke said...

Sorry, Kylie, didn't see that you had signed the earlier post.

Had a giggle about the vegetarians...I think we all have the little quirks that we like to put into our books, especially into our fave protagonist!

Kathleen said...

How a reader reacts to a book sometimes says more about the reader than the book. But when different readers react the same way... I'm learning to be less subtle, after several people of vastly different tastes read my "quiet horror" piece as "cute" :)

Glenda Larke said...

Very true, Kathleen. As soon as two people say the same thing, I sit up and take notice. I recently had a lightbulb moment with regard to a future book when a second beta reader said, "That part is too short - expand it!" Another had said the same thing and I hadn't taken much notice...but two? It had me scurrying back to the keyboard.