Saturday, February 19, 2011

What It All Means, Boys

Donis today. On Wednesday John shared with us the insightful questions he was asked when he spoke to a classroom full of boys at Salisbury School in Connecticut. Incredibly insightful questions. Too insightful. These are scary-smart boys.

"What do you try to achieve with metaphors and similies? Do you consciously use symbols?"

The questions cause me to consider my own work. Do I try to achieve anything with metaphors and similes? The use of simile is quite common in the dialect of the region I write about. I believe that is my only calculated use of any of the above.

I actually attempt to be existential when I write, and report the plain facts of the situation, the setting, the story, and the characters' reactions to them. However, after I finish writing a book, it's full of metaphor and symbology, whether I meant to put it in there or not. No matter what he thinks he's doing, the author doesn't put symbols in his book. The reader puts them there.

I'm frequently amazed by what readers see in my books. Sometimes it's quite gratifying, as in, "I didn't realize the depth of my own genius!" Often I'm just baffled, as in, "Where the &*$@ did she come up with that idea?" Same with reviews and critics. I feel I can tell more about the critic's perception and prejudices from the review than I can tell about the book. More than once I've read a novel and had a totally different reaction to the story than most of the reviewers had.

It's good for a writer to keep in mind that once your work is out of your hands, the story isn't yours any more. it's the reader's.

Another great question the boys asked John was, "does the worldview of your protagonist represent your own views?"

Shoot, no! Readers may make assumptions about a novelist based on what she writes, but that's a mistake. In my case, the worldview of my protagonist is almost diametrically opposed to my own. But I like to respectfully put on someone else's skin and walk around in it for awhile. That's one of the great things about writing fiction. You can live many lives, explore many options, don as many worldviews as you wish and try them on for size.* That's what imagination is for.


*figurative image alert.


Jill said...

It's interesting that readers can (and often do) conflate the characters with the author, in terms of worldview or other traits.

Obviously, there are times this is true (to varying extents), but think of how boring it would be if this were 100% true all the time.

It's actually a lot of fun writing about a character who says or does things that are miles away from who you really are.

Hannah Dennison said...

What great questions ... and forgive me for being so behind (John) -- but I had to chime in. For the most part, I do think my protagonist shares my views but I just LOVE writing characters who do not. Anything I write that seems symbolic is purely a fluke -- unless I'm so clever I don't even notice.