The Thing About Interpretation

Recently, I read the manuscript of a novel from someone I “met” online. Afterwards, when we were discussing it, I was highly amused by how differently the two of us viewed the characters. This wouldn’t have been so surprising if it was any other random reader whose opinions were clashing with mine. The thing that made my realisation as impactful as it was, was the fact that I was having a discussion with the author himself.

I believe the author of any fictional piece will have biases – or at least a goal for what they want the reader to think/feel. This may lead him, consciously or unconsciously, to tailor his words to elicit this within them. And after you finish working and you release your stuff to this reader…it’s completely out of your hands. Everything is up to the reader’s interpretation.

His favourite character was one I had no love for. And he was (and is) desperate to explain to me why she is worth loving, or is at least the lesser of two evils. But assume I was not a preliminary reader, that he had already been published internationally, and to me, he was just a name on a cover of a book. I’d probably have written an alternate ending. And I’m imagining him finding it one day, and behind his computer screen, he puts his hands on his head and groans, “Nooooo…I’ve created a monster!”

Anyway, this book was largely based on morals, and because of this, an Orson Scott Card quote I saved a few years ago came to mind:

“There’s always moral instruction whether the writer inserts it deliberately or not. The least effective moral instruction in fiction is that which is consciously inserted. Partly because it won’t reflect the storyteller’s true beliefs, it will only reflect what he BELIEVES he believes, or what he thinks he should believe or what he’s been persuaded of.

But when you write without deliberately expressing moral teachings, the morals that show up are the ones you actually live by. The beliefs that you don’t even think to question, that you don’t even notice– those will show up. And that tells much more truth about what you believe than your deliberate moral machinations.”

–Orson Scott Card


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