Thursday, September 15, 2016

Reader Baggage

Usually in the middle of the month, I post a bit of fiction. This month, I have something a little different. There is something my brain has been obsessively chewing on, and I feel the need to put my thoughts out into the world. Hold on, this might be a bit rambly.

I am a reader. I am also a writer.

That means that when I read something, I am reading on two levels. Part of me is reading for the pure enjoyment of reading. I love to get lost in the world of a story, meet new characters, learn things about the world through fiction.

Part of me reads as a writer. When I do get lost in a story, fall in love with a character, or have an aha moment I think about it for days. I try to pull it apart and figure out what the author did that made me love it so much.

I do the same thing when I don’t love a story, when a character just doesn’t click for me.

My goal is to learn the “tricks of the trade.” If I can figure out what an author did well, or not so well, I can imitate the great and avoid the not-so-great.

Here’s the catch. About 98% of the time, I realize that my love (or less than love) is not really about what the author did. A huge portion of it is what I bring with me to the story.

Every reader brings their entire life experience with them to the page. It colors how they see the characters, if they buy into the choices the characters make, if they see the world of the story as real.

Authors have zero control over what their readers bring to the page.

This is huge to realize and tuck away as a writer. This industry (yes, it’s an industry) is completely subjective. One agent/ editor will love your work. Another will think it is trash. A smidgen of this is about your skill as a writer. The bulk is about the interaction between the reader and your words.

A lot of thoughts followed from this.

There is no way to write a story that every reader will like. This is a huge weight off my shoulders as a writer. My job is to sit down and write the best story that I can. My job is tell the truth for this character, in this situation. I should write without the reader in mind. I can’t control anyone’s response to what I write.

But there is a huge catch buried in there. Did you see it?

The truth.

That is the catch.

The truth is a tricky, slippery thing. The truth is unique to the person that holds that truth. It is built over a lifetime of experiences, of interaction with the world around them.

My truth is not the same as yours.

This makes the writer’s job complicated. You can only write one truth at a time. If you try to include everyone’s truth in the same story, you will end up with a jumbled mess that no one can appreciate (or possibly understand).

You could choose to stick to your own truth.

This is okay. It is an honest way to write. You can say, this is who I am. These are the stories I choose to tell.

But I think my responsibility as a writer is to push past my own truth. My job, every day, is to take in the world around me. To interact with, and listen to, the voices of people around me. To listen closely to their truths.

My job is to feed my truth, let it grow. See where it intersects the truths of others. Where it lies in opposition.

And then, when I sit down to write, let it all go. At least consciously. When I write, my job is to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and tell the truth. The biggest truth that I can. The truth that acknowledges the multitude of truths in the world.

I have to trust that the truth I put in my story will mesh with the truths of some of my readers. Or push against their truths in a way that gives them an aha moment.

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