Posted tagged ‘Occam’s razor’

Occam’s editing razor

July 14, 2010

I was discussing the plot of The Sleep of Reason with one of the people who was kind enough to read and critique it. Specifically, we were discussing why things happened in the story as they do. The “reason” behind the plot turns out to be strange and extraordinary but credible. Yet I leave that for the reader to figure out based on implications and ambiguities. I don’t spell it out, but I don’t leave it out either.

Yet as we talked, I realized that the story was open to an alternate interpretation that allowed for a plot driver that was far less fantastic, far less complex, than what I had in mind when I wrote it. That possible, alternate explanation for why things happen the way they do in the story is also available to the reader, and it would work. (Plus I’ve thought of a couple of lines I could add to the story that could foster such a reading.)

They say that once a story is published, it no longer belongs to the writer. The reader can understand the story however he or she wants. And, every understanding is legitimate.

There is a mental exercise among law students that posits that in To Kill a Mockingbird, the accused man, Tom Robinson, is actually guilty and that Atticus Finch got it all wrong. This is not so much an alternate reading of the story as it is a thought experiment designed to torment young law students. I really doubt that Harper Lee had such a notion in mind, but the telling of that story does allow for such an interpretation. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the writer “intended.”

Occam’s razor might call for my story to be read with the simpler, less fantastic explanation for the plot, but that will be the choice of the reader. And the simpler explanation, in this case, is far less savory and fun than the more complex one.