“It is not enough to make sense. We want to find the sense the author intended.” —C.S. Lewis
Anybody want to join me on the fence? There’s plenty of room.
I agree with this sometimes, disagree sometimes. This discussion always makes me think of Ray Bradbury explaining to disbelieving university students that Fahrenheit 451 was absolutely not about censorship. No, it’s not. I wrote it, dammit; I should know! (Here I imagine Mr. Bradbury flinging paperbacks at college students’ heads. His aim is impressive.)
Let me give you a couple of examples from my own experience as a writer who deals directly with readers during the workshopping process.
Last year, I presented a fifty-word story to the community on Scribophile. I’d never tried microfiction before, but it was for a contest, so I gave it a shot. Since I didn’t win, and my subsequent submission of the piece came with a note telling me that I don’t understand microfiction, I’ll share it with you here.
I waited for him to come home. He did.
I waited for him to speak. He spoke.
I waited for him to stop.
Go to sleep, I thought. He did.
I waited for him to leave for work. Leave me alone.
Now I wait for him to return. He won’t.
A critique I received on this came with an interpretation that I would never have expected. What’s your take on it? My answer is below. Please enjoy these puppies while you consider your answer.
What did I write? The narrator is waiting for hubby to come home, but then wants hubby to be quiet and go away, as he’s an annoyance. The interpretation that threw me for a loop? A man who comes home and rapes his wife every night because he feels he can as the man.
No, no, no! Not only is that not what I wrote, I have no idea how it could be inferred from those words. A year later, and I’m still baffled.
I did not correct that person, by the way. I said thanks and walked away, scratching my head.
On the other hand, I’m sometimes pleased when people find things I didn’t mean, possible motives for a character, meanings for a story, connections between people and events that I miss.
I’m working on another story that I wrote last year, where the main character comes across an old friend. The MC is successful, with a family of sorts, and his friend is a junkie/prostitute. The MC purposefully gives his friend an overdose in the climax of the story. I don’t overtly state why, which has caused different readers to suggest possible motives. I’m seriously considering leaving it as is, because I find the idea of openness in this particular story fascinating.
(I didn’t mean to skip the motive; it was simply so obvious inside my head that I didn’t put it on the page. If you’ve read the story and are dying to know, I’ll tell you once it’s printed and you’ve purchased whatever magazine buys it.)
What do you think? Does art belong to the artist or to the observer or to both?