I have started to get some very useful feedback from the Eager Volunteers about Bonhomme Sept-Heures as I work on getting it ready to share with you. I also had an interesting question; without spoiling anything, one of my readers asked about a detail in one of the scenes (I think it’s safe to say that it’s a crack in the ceiling) and asked what the significance of it was.
I told him the truth – it’s one of those things I put in my stories that I want the reader to interpret for themselves. Maybe it symbolizes something. Maybe it’s a plot point. Maybe it’s just a crack in the ceiling. Whenever I write, I like to leave things in the story that a reader can look at and decide for themselves what they mean, if they mean anything at all. Some people would call these loose ends, I guess, and I know some would argue that everything should get an explanation. I guess I like the idea of that explanation coming from the reader, rather than me, at least some of the time.
I think maybe this goes back to my English lit background; I spent years getting trained to interpret parts of stories and figure out what they mean, and it’s become something I enjoy. Really, historical analysis is often much the same deal – you have a small piece of evidence, and have to determine what it may signify, or if it may mean nothing at all beyond being an interesting factoid. So I imagine putting these interpret-able bits in my stories is me (once again) being a selfish writer and doing things that I would enjoy reading.
I think it’s also true that many people enjoy having a puzzle to solve, and salting in a few bits and pieces that readers can have a think over and try to decide how they fit in hopefully adds a bit of extra added amusement value to the story. Hopefully.
In thinking about that answer, I also thought about whether I always enjoy it, as a reader, when there are pieces of a story that aren’t entirely explained and left to me to figure out. Generally I think that I do, although there’s a difference between leaving parts of your story for the reader to interpret and just having unfinished parts of your plot or setting.
I think it’s entirely reasonable to not answer absolutely every question about a fictional world. Your characters probably don’t know the answers themselves, and may not care, and so leaving some information out may actually enhance the feeling of viewing things from a particular character’s viewpoint. I think some stories do get sidetracked into world-building at the expense of the story; if your reader doesn’t really need to know all the details of a fictional economy (for example), it may be better to get to telling them the story instead. If it’s not relevant to the plot, I don’t always think I need to know exactly how the political system of the Kingdom of X came to be.
On the other hand, I know there are people who lap this stuff up, so I think this is another case where there’s risks you take as an author – how much of this material do I put in, and how much of a potential audience will I appeal to, or alienate, by that decision. I guess you can either strive for some perfect middle road, or just do what I suspect I do, write whatever I was going to write anyway, and hope that someone likes it.
This is straying fairly far off from the idea of leaving little nuggets in the story for readers to interpret for themselves, though, so perhaps I’ll call it here. I’d love to hear what you think (as readers or writers) about having stories contain things that the reader is meant to answer for themselves.
Thanks for reading.
This weekend is Ottawa’s spring Geek Market, and Renaissance Press will be there! I will be at the booth Friday evening and through the day Saturday, if you want to come and say hello. There’s quite a good deal where you and a friend can get in for $5 Friday night, leaving you loads of money to spend on books.
I’m mostly kidding.
More seriously I am very excited to be getting back out doing some events, and there are plenty more coming up this summer that I’ll tell you about as details firm up.