Close reading

I’ve given names to my characters in The Sleep of Reason with careful consideration. Their names have reference to historical or mythical characters or themes or otherwise somehow help to illuminate their role in the story. (Okay not all of my characters. But the ones I could spot a reference for I gave such names to.) In a couple of cases I even changed the names I originally gave to characters so they were more “suitable.”

I’ve slipped other “bonus material” into the story. Various objects that make casual appearances in the descriptions of rooms hint toward greater meanings (though not all objects). I have one character who is often seen in doorways. Does she offer a way forward or does she block it? And so on.

These devices are all supplemental to the story; they contribute to the understanding and enjoyment of the story, but they don’t drive it. A reader does not need to catch even one of the references to appreciate the story on face value. (Some of these “bonus” items  are so obscure, in fact, that I suspect I will be the only one who knows they are there.)

The question, then, is, do they belong in the story at all? When you think about it, such “cues” and “bonus materials” do not occur in real life (though we often see meaning in randomness in retrospect). A story about “real” people with “real” motivations in “real” settings would never have such stuff in it. The boy who beat up the playground bully may just happen to have been named David, with no thought when his parents named him of the helpful role he would one day provide.  And while parts of my story are weird in the extreme, there is nothing supernatural or even superhuman in it. It is comprised of “real” people, motivations, and settings.

So if these bonus items are not needed for a reader to understand the story, and if they don’t correspond to the way things happen in reality, should they even be in there? What purpose do they serve other than to satisfy some playfulness on my part?

Of course if I thought that they didn’t belong, I’d probably have to omit things like metaphor. Mood setting imagery would have to go too. And so on. Anything not literally true would have to come out, but that ain’t creative writing.

I think in part I can’t help myself. I love doing this kind of thing. This is a hidebound tradition in most creative writing (and in a lot of nonfiction if you look for it). In a way it is a reward for a careful reader. Maybe it’s a lot like serifs in typefaces. These are thought to guide the eye across the line.* They don’t add meaning themselves, but they aid in the ultimate comprehension.

*There is another school of thought that says serifs clutter the page and add more material for the brain to process.

Explore posts in the same categories: Humble efforts, Rants and ruminations, Sleep of Reason

One Comment on “Close reading”

  1. Brian Keaney Says:

    You love doing it. That’s the justification. And you’re right, most readers won’t even notice. My books are full of allusions I put in for myself. Only very rarely does anyone else notice. But I enjoy them.

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