In the fiction writing class I am currently taking, my first ever attempt at being taught the rules of writing by the way, we are discussing conflict and resolution. A few other things have occurred to me while in the class.
For years, nay decades, I have bucked against the traditions spoken by teachers and critics. I have viewed most forms of art as my interpretation. It means what I want it to me. I often questioned authoritative figures who tried to tell me this artist was trying to display this emotion. The reason the man is wearing a blue coat is to denote the sadness in his soul. The dark clouds that are slowly creeping over the lovers in foreshadowing dark and troubles events to come.
I would often look a teacher in the eye and ask how they knew this? Without record of the inner thoughts of some writers and painters, we had to interpret the meaning behind their work. So I always pointed out that maybe they just liked the color blue, it had nothing to do with sadness. What if he just thought a few storm clouds moving in would be a good way to go? These are the things I questions, because at the the time, I was an outsider.
I read the writer’s words. I looked at the artist’s drawings. Each had as much meaning as I gave it. Many of my peers would think the same thing, I was the only one idiotic enough to challenge authority.
Things have changed a wee bit. Now that I am trying my own hand at writing, hoping one day to be an established and known author, I realize that many of these meanings are there. The writer carefully selects every minutia of the story. Sometimes these are fillers, yet even then the fillers are agonized over. Epiphany strikes and suddenly that guy should be wearing a blue coat indicative of his troubled soul. Suddenly I realize that by having dark clouds looming in the background, threatening to ruin the lover’s wonderful picnic, is a wonderful way to set the mood for the reader, to give them a hint at the things to come.I realize that, more often than not, my teacher’s were right. Things are chosen for a purpose.
Ok, well this leads to a question: was I just dumb? Was I an uneducated simpleton that could not pick out meaning in works where it is evident?
I believe the answer is wandering around lost in a land between yes and no. Reader’s read stories to be entertained. When I sit down to read the latest book from a favored author, I don’t dissect every passage looking for meaning behind the words. I just want to see my favorite FBI agent stop another serial killer. When I look at a painting I don’t try to feel an emotion. Sometimes an emotion is evoked, but this is not through effort on my part. I am the viewer or reader, and I do not understand the meaning.
Yet, the writer is arrogant. The writer slaves over the word, punishes himself for not setting the mood right. The writer strikes entire paragraphs because it doesn’t speak in the voice the writer wants. Sure, the reader may have enjoyed a brief memory of the FBI agent’s childhood, but what was the purpose, other than filling a word count. To the writer that memory must serve a purpose. The writer craves the meaning in his soul to leak into the story. After all, the writer would not be writing the story if not to release images in the brain onto the page. If those images have no meaning, then the writer has no purpose.
So the writer injects meaning into everything, and the reader just wants to be entertained, often missing the intended meaning. The happy medium is that each fulfills their purpose. The writer pours her soul into the story, opening deep cuts into her emotional state. The reader can escape reality briefly by interjecting themself into a fictional story.
Conflict, which we are studying (see how I cam full circle) is when the writer is offended by the loss of meaning, or the reader is forced to see beyond the words and search for a meaning. Like most aspects of writing, this is an infuriating cycle. Writer’s want to be better so they learn the tricks of mood, theme, conflict, and resolution. Learning these tricks sets them in a place above the reader. They understand the importance, and falsely assume it will be evident to the reader. Reader’s want to be entertained above all else.
What have I taken from this? To humble myself when writing. Just because I agonize over what the weather should be in a certain scene, doesn’t mean the reader will get it. To not be upset when a reader doesn’t get the full meaning. To not be upset when a reader asks, “What happens to Susie at the end? Does she run off with Joe or put a bullet in her brain?” I have decided to just enjoy the fact that someone read and enjoyed what I write.