A partnership with the reader

Way back here, I wrote a post about the numinous feeling I had when I moved through a cramped, temporary passage, knowing that a greater, far more splendid hall existed beyond it. I likened it to the experience I often have when reading a book that I suspect has a far more profound meaning than my humble mind is appreciating.

In my amateur way, I have tried to instill this kind of thing in my novels. Some of it is simple playfulness. In The Sleep of Reason, a careful reader might make profitable use of examining character names and looking for the cultural, historical, or mythical references they make. Yet another reader might not bother with this and (I hope) enjoy the novel nonetheless. Yet I have also tried to structure the novel, specifically the development of the central character, along the lines of a classical Greek tragedy. I even make a few contemporary political comments in the novel, though I have couched these sufficiently (I hope) to allow even the most partisan reader to avoid seeing them if not attuned.

Beyond my own bumbling efforts at this sort of thing, however, I believe that when a writer takes the effort to put this into a work of fiction (or non-fiction, for that matter), he or she is deepening the partnership with the reader. I think that looking at the relationship between the reader and the writer as a partnership is a worthy and fruitful approach.

When a reader identifies a subtext in a piece of writing, I suspect, in general, that reader feels a bit more clever, a bit more in cahoots with the writer. The sharing runs a little deeper, and the reader can feel flattered by it. This, in turn, might allow the reader to think more favorably of the work and/or the writer. The reader may then take up more works by the writer and recommend him or her to others as a worthy read. Or it could be merely that the story was told as well as it was humanly possible to be told. Everyone wins.

But is there a downside to this? Might the thoughtful reader feel manipulated by the carefully placed “deeper” references in a story? Might it seem calculated or contrived? Even pretentious? Or might a reader who has this numinous sense feel resentful or inadequate because he or she cannot get beyond it to see what is there? (For example, I’m reading a collection of short stories by an author who is universally praised for his understanding of human nature and relationships. His prose is highly recommended, and I was eager to start into the book when I found it at the used bookstore recently. Yet I read the stories and the words pass through my eyes and into my brain, and I see events happening, conversations transpiring, images being created. And then the words stop and apparently the given short story is finished. But what has happened? What was I to have taken from the story? Even though some of these stories go on for twenty pages or more, they seem more like vignettes or observations. I can’t really discern much in the way of a plot or even an ending when they are done. Clearly I am missing something, but I don’t feel compelled to re-read the stories or seek commentary about them to get enlightened. Rather, I want to finish the collection and move on to something else.)

I know many writers say they are simply telling a story. They have no truck with deeper meanings or hidden agendas. That’s fine, and for most readers, that is the goal anyway. But these same writers, if they care at all about their craft, will anguish over the use of an adverb because they want to tell their story well. It seems to me that our story telling craft exists on a continuum and a writer can strive to create a tale at any point along that continuum. Further, I suspect that many, many readers look for and appreciate the challenges and rewards of such writing.

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

One Comment on “A partnership with the reader”

  1. lucky rabbits foot Says:

  2. One thing you suggested that both the reader and the writer should sit together is a worthy and fruitful approach that was right because it helps to satisfies the readers expectations.

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