As a writer I want my work to be the very best, every character memorable, all words meaningful, each scene evocative. In a word, perfect. Yet I’ll never get there, and part of the stumbling block is the one the reader places before me. Perhaps.
If you read any sentence by any author, you’ll notice there are so many other ways of saying the same thing, with different words, in alternate order, but resulting in nearly identical concepts. Examples: I would like to know the process by which you made this dessert. (Inquiry, formal.) How did you make dessert? (Inquiry, casual.) Tell me how you made the dessert. (Order.) Are you willing to share your recipe for your dessert? (Plea.) I’d really love to know how you made that dessert. (Flattery.) How did you come up with that dessert, for crying out loud? (Insult.) Same bowl of ice cream, essentially the same question: how’d ya do it?
Words count and the arrangement of words counts exponentially. Context counts the most here – who is asking the question, what’s their goal, under what circumstances is the question posed? The sentences are dialogue, whether internal or asked aloud of another person and knowing the character will determine what the reader comprehends about the tone and expectation of those words. The student asks formally. The best friend asks casually. The boss gives an order. The loser pleads. The admirer flatters. The bully insults. If the reader can’t intuit the correct tone, it’s probably poor writing on the part of the author. But maybe not.
The way a sentence is read with the inflection on different words will change its impact on the reader. Examples: HOW did you make that dessert? (Do you have a recipe you’re willing to share?) How DID you make that dessert? (It’s so spectacular, you must be a master chef.) How did YOU make that dessert? (I didn’t know you could make anything but a glass of water.) How did you MAKE that dessert? (You probably used ingredients only found at specialty markets.) How did you make THAT dessert? (Only you would choose something so bizarre.) How did you make that DESSERT? (It was so delicious I must have another piece.)
Which version did the author intend? It could mean something entirely different depending on how it’s spoken – shouted – wept – whispered – shrieked – or just read silently. If the reader doesn’t interpret correctly but infers a different meaning, the entire premise of the sentence is invalidated. Perhaps. Or part of the process of writing delegates power to the reader. Yeah, probably.
Then there’s the problem of words with multiple meanings or applications. When I write the word bat to mean the creature that glides into the night munching on insects but you think I mean the stick that smacks a ball to soar across a field, I am not communicating with you effectively. You’ll figure it out by the following paragraph, and hopefully giggle a bit or roll your eyes. The fault is mine of course for misleading you, but how much explanation must I include before the whole passage collapses under its own weight? Before you’re laughing so uproariously that you can’t even follow the story, and you put the book aside? Details, details, not all of them to keep.
I’m wide awake when I write, completely tuned in to my story, my brain erupting with ideas so flammable I’ll burn up if I let go the pen . (My blog is called Ink Flare for a reason.) The reader is likely nodding off, grappling with a chapter or two before going to sleep, in fact likely reading as lullaby. How attentive can she be? If in her sleepiness she glosses over important events, I can’t be held responsible that she doesn’t understand what’s happening in the book. Can I? Or perhaps the book is too boring to be anything except white noise, an effective barrier against the stresses in the reader’s life. And that’s why she chose it. Or she wanted something to keep her awake so she wouldn’t suffer her usual nightmares. Yeah – one or the other.
I didn’t write a perfect book, but I wrote a perfectly good one. Three, in fact, and a fourth opus in progress if the reader likes historical fiction. Perfection is elusive because every reader, including myself the writer the second and third time I read the work I’ve written, brings a personal interpretation to the story. Doesn’t mean my work can’t be improved, only that perfection is a false god. I aim for personal best – blastedly hard to achieve but still a reasonable goal. The reader gets to tell me how I’m doing. Please ignore the tears.
(Now what did she mean? Tears, as in rips in the paper – or tears, as in water dripping from her eyes? She’s so far from perfect – ugh!)
Ballerina image courtesy: Google images and Pixabay