A big part of writing is interpretation. We can all agree to that, I’m sure. If not for interpretation, English courses wouldn’t exist, and not to mention entertainment message boards. But at what point does interpretation become misunderstanding? At what point should you, the writer, intervene with a reader’s deduction and make things right?
As with all writing, this post is inspired. One of my loyal readers read the second draft of my books and made a few statements which were a clear indication that she had completely missed some of the intended plot points. Or, rather, I had made them miss her. Looking back at the story, I can see where she got her conclusions from, and a few of them would be pretty cool ‘interpretations’. Only thing is, I never meant for it to be abstract. It is so clear to me when writing, that it is often hard to see how a different scenario can arise from the same set of words. This trap is especially easy to fall in to when editing. There is such a whittle down a novel to an exceptable size, get rid of all the extraneous description, and adhere to the ‘show, don’t tell’ that cutting out important (and maybe even vital) parts of the story becomes not just likely but unavoidable.
Pulling the lens back from my limited perspective, many stories do quite well with intentional interpretations. A prime example: Inception. Dream, or no dream? Is his wife dead, or no? There’s something wonderful about stories that continue on when you finish them, through conversations with friends, theories running through your head, or even just the need for a re-read. To be open to interpretation, essentially some part of the story is missing. And I don’t mean missing in a bad way (as the word has that natural connotation), but there is something missing nonetheless. Otherwise, there would be no questions.
But I noticed something else with Inception. My friend had one essential feature confused, and we argued this point long after the movie. I knew he had just gotten the facts mixed up, and he did too upon a second viewing. But we both saw clearly where the confusion had stemmed from. It was a plothole, an inconsistency that just made the question it brought up a headache to think about, so much to the point that we just had to admit it was most likely an error in the storytelling.
As writers, we don’t want our work to be confusing, but at the same time we have to let our readers have a hand in the journey that we create. When someone reads your work and they take away a reality you didn’t think you had developed, what do you do? There is a decision you have to make. Either you can go back and revise so that your original vision is perfectly clear, or you can take the opportunity to expand your story’s interpretive elements.
Or is it your job to do anything about this discovery at all? Think about it. Your reader didn’t complain. Didn’t say that the part ruined the story for her. Hell, she even seemed excited/impressed with the mystery created. You could think of the snafu as a bonus element of your story, a hidden prize for all the work you put in.
The bottom line is that we must think critically about the feedback we receive and resist the urge to go crazy when someone brings up an element that you never knew was there. Don’t let them see you sweat. At the same time, be true with what you want out of the book and what kind of experience you want to give your reader. The heart rarly leads to the wrong decision (unless the opposite sex is involved).