Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Writing is... Communicating

I was reading a collegiate textbook on Literature earlier while waiting in the 94 heat to find out the tire place didn't have a rim which fits my car (making this the second time this week I've driven all the way over there and not gotten what I needed), and it was discussing writing as communication and also as interactive. The interactivity takes place between the author's intentions and the reader's interpretation.

It then mentioned "factual details," which I often refer to as "concrete" elements or details; these are the details which are inarguable and not open to interpretation. These are usually things like setting, time, and so forth. even these can be left to interpretation, but when they are not specified, the reader rarely thinks about them, considering them unimportant to the story, unless you suggest possibilities throughout the text. In fact, when it comes to a lot of concrete elements, if they are left out, it's usually by design specifically because they do not matter and will only detract from the primary thrust(s) of the piece.

But there's an important thing to this entire discussion which I always feel the need to bring up: regardless of the elements you leave open to interpretation, the single most important purpose of writing is communicating. If your story is obscure or left wide-open to a myriad of interpretations, then you have not done your job.

And I feel this is a very important point to make because in this day and age of Political Correctness, too many bad writers are being told that all that matters is doing it - expressing themselves. Well, expressing yourself is all fine and good and there's a need and a place for it, but "expressing yourself" doesn't mean much if no one else knows what you are expressing to them! The same is true with visual arts; whether or not the bleeding-hearts want you to believe that, it's a truism in all fields of arts and entertainment.

Many writers obscure their specific points and subject matter from time to time for a number of reasons. It may be too controversial, illegal according to cultural or geographical mores, or countless other reasons. But in these cases, the point is usually fairly clear; it may change slightly according to the reader's own situation and experiences, but the overall concept(s) is understood. You might think a poem concerning the Winter is about death, loneliness, or isolation, but the general concept is communicated. Of course, poetry has a lot more to do with evocative words and imagery than most fiction, so the rules are a little less strict.

But the point remains that the purpose of writing is to communicate something to the reader, and if you obscure what that something is, you're not doing your job as a writer.

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