Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Musing

Over at the Murder is Everywhere blog, Tim Hallihan has an essay about readers who take offense.

I've been on the receiving end of that kind of rant for some of my short stories and it always puzzles me. A story I wrote this past year, "A Soiled Afternoon", came under fire for the awful way I murdered the mother in the story. I told the man he should read the story again because nowhere in that story was the woman killed. Was it implied? Yes, but not a shot was fired, nor a bloody corpse seen, except for a pair of skinned rabbits.

I think one thing we tend to forget as writers is the reader's imagination. Sometimes it's bigger than our own and a few well-chosen words can take them to places even we couldn't imagine going. And if we're good enough writers, the reader isn't able to separate the words they're reading from the story unfolding in their heads. For better or worse, the reader is our partner.

Oh, and if you're interested in the story that spawned the musings in this post you can read it here


Charles Gramlich said...

I've had it happen too. At least it means we evoked a strong response.

sandra seamans said...

Yes, it does, Charles! But it does take you aback for a moment, until you realize that they're seeing something that you didn't even put on the page.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

That was a good post by Tim. You need to write the way you feel it and not wory about the moral majority or it will get in the way of the story you trying to tell. Missed your TKnC story first time around. It was excellent!

sandra seamans said...

That's pretty much all you can do, Sean, because you will never please every reader. If you're happy with the story you've written that should be the only measuring stick for sending it out for publication. After the readers get it, all bets are off. :)

G. B. Miller said...

A couple of things:

1) Neat blog, it makes a perfect addition to BTAP that I currently read.

2) I read your story and the entire death was basically implied, so I'm not sure what the person was objecting to. If it ain't there, then it ain't there.

I thought it was a good story as well.

sandra seamans said...

I know, G. I'm always surprised at what readers see in their own minds. Of course, I'm guilty of the same thing. Sometimes I have to read a passage twice to realize that my mind went where the writer hadn't gone at all.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Scott McCloud wrote a seminal book on the comic book called Understanding Comics that breaks down every aspect of the art form. The how and why it works nuts and bolts stuff. It's a brilliant read.

In one section he talks about the gutter, the space in between frames. One of the prime examples that he uses is that of an axe murder. Take a comic frame showing an axe swinging towards someone and the next frame shows a scream (or a puddle of liquid, or whatever). No murder or act of violence actually took place. The act happened in the gutter and the reader supplied the image/act. The reader is complicit in the act of murder because that character got killed a thousand different ways by a thousand different people.

People are convinced that The Silence of the Lambs is a horrifically violent movie yet violence doesn't happen for much of the movie.

My rambling 2¢

sandra seamans said...

Exactly, Brian, and the writer is either brilliant or disgusting depending on the imagines the readers see in their heads.