Why is it that so much of the talk surrounding writing is based in death? Kill your darlings, write what you know (maybe this one is personal), write like your parents are dead…
And now? Write like you are dead…
Or will die, the second you release your work into the world.
How many of you are familiar with Author Death? If you’re coming here from Twitter’s Writing Community, then I bet more of you than not, considering C.D. Tavenor’s (@tavenorcd) poll discussing it yesterday.
I found the topic interesting, which makes it the perfect subject for me to ramble on about while likely missing the point. You want a more formal approach? That link up there, where it says “Author Death” in red, goes over to the TV Tropes page on the subject. That was a good read.
This isn’t that. But if you follow the link, come back here after and digest with me.
My favorite sampling from beyond the link: “Books are meant to be read, not written, so the ways readers interpret them are as important and ‘real’ as the author’s intention. On the flip side, a lot of author’s are unavailable or unwilling to comment on their intentions, and even when they are, they don’t always make choices for reasons that make sense or are easily explainable to others (or sometimes even to themselves).”
Authors don’t have a clue…
Why, Dear Reader, do you assume a writer has any inkling of a fucking idea the adventure they are about to take you on?
At one point, whatever story you are reading poured out of a pen as fresh to the eyes of the writer as these words are to you now.
Maybe I only speak for myself. If so, consider the “we” royal. We start with something small. A character. A place. Maybe a word. Murder? Lust? Revenge? Something. Sometimes less, just aimless writing.
So, there is an inkling there. We aren’t sure what to do with it, and as the story grows, that idea is buried. Maybe it tremors throughout the work, maybe not. This cultivating and growing is much more akin to gardening than, say, architecture.
Sure, we can steal some ideas/concepts from architecture, but no matter how lopsided we stack the words, the book won’t collapse. Art, not science.
As you should see now, I don’t have a clue… I’m cultivating ideas by writing with reckless abandon. That’s what blogs for, right?
An author’s intent…
In fiction, my intent is to tell a story. Any themes arising from the telling of that story are secondary. Do those themes necessarily fit to my system of beliefs and values? No.
If they do, am I restricted from ever disagreeing with those believes and values my work portrayed? Am I restricted from growth and change? Again, no.
So often nowadays, I see condemnation of an author because of what their work conveyed. Their work was racist, sexist, insensitive in one way or another. They then feel compelled to remove their work from publication, or change it to suit the (often extreme) sensitivities of the world.
Don’t condemn an author for the ideas that express themselves in an author’s work. If an author conducts themselves in a bigoted or hateful way in their interactions with people, judge that.
No, an author’s work is not beyond criticism for what it conveys. But criticize the work and not the writer. And, good chance here, if you are offended by something I write, I was offended writing it.
Art is an exploration of emotion and life. Most art worth arting is an exploration of conflict and bad.
Writing does not exist for the sole purpose of pouring sunshine and roses into the world. If my work makes you uncomfortable? It probably should. I’m not changing it to suit delicate sensibilities.
Author Death is sweet relief…
The point where I click publish is the point where I end and you begin. All of my intent, the meaning of every word I wrote, no longer matters once I’ve unleashed my monster… my novel… upon you. A story, once published, belongs to the reader.
This is a relief to me. I spend so much time fretting over how my work will be received. So much so that I’m trying to explain this and that when I hand it over to betas and editors.
A lesson I’m taking (even if it is unrelated) from this whole Author Death discussion is this: Any time your work is in the hand’s of a reader, your mouth is shut.
Shut the hell up.
What you meant doesn’t matter when the only one left to speak for you is your book. So convey the meaning there or don’t convey it at all.
But it’s a relief because no book ever has every person ever come away with a singular interpretation. That doesn’t happen. People will take from it what they need, what they wanted, what they chose to see… once you let it loose, you get to be dead. Relax.
I’m not saying an author isn’t responsible for what they wrote… maybe I am. We should seek to convey our intent to the best of our abilities at that moment.
And, once released, we become nothing to that work but another reader. We can grow and learn from it just like anyone else.
This topic has been my passing fancy for the past… half an hour… and now I want to move on from being it’s writer and join the discussion which will hopefully take place below.
Does this post convey what I intended? That’s not for you to say and it doesn’t matter. You bring your own interpretation to the table, which encourages discussion, which encourages growth. Have I said some things I don’t agree with? Yeah, actually. I didn’t know it until I wrote it though.
So enough rambling, I’m ready to die. What do you think of Author Death? Does author intent matter more than what the reader interpreted? Go crazy. Talk about whatever.