Thursday, August 12, 2010

Open for Interpretation

Have you ever read a book only to have it end without telling you how it really ended? I hate it when that happens. When you invest all that time in a book, you want some closure. While those kinds of books often bug me, there is something that can be learned by that approach to writing. By not disclosing all the final details, the author leaves it to the reader’s imagination to fill in the missing blanks. I think it’s interesting that a skilled author often has different readers filling in those blanks with very different personal interpretations.

While I’m not espousing that writers shouldn’t bring closure to their books, I do believe that a story has much more depth and intrigue when it is crafted in a way that throughout the story its readers derive diverse meanings from its storyline or message. To do this, an author has to refrain from hitting the reader over the head with preconceived themes or messages. The author has to keep from always impressing their own personal judgments on their characters’ behaviors and attitudes. The author has to avoid the temptation to tell us everything the protagonists think about themselves, others, and the events of the story. In other words, the author needs to leave some things open for interpretation by the reader. The author needs to let the readers discover their own meanings from the story.

This can often be accomplished by simply showing what happens in the story versus telling what happens in the story (See Show Your Readers the Way and Make Your Story Come Alive). A basic example of this would be instead of telling us that a Joe is angry, hurt and wants revenge on Bill because Bill stole his girlfriend, you show us Joe’s reactions from body language to action. Does he yell and scream, threatening Bill, or does he smile and feign friendship in order to better set up his revenge and keep Bill and the reader guessing at what Joe is really up to?

The point is that a story becomes much engaging and memorable when crafted in a way that readers are allowed to discover their own personal insights and interpretations from the story.

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