I critique other’s work and they read and critique mine. We look for superfluous words, grammar mistakes, things that don’t ring true and dead weight sentences or paragraphs among other things. One of the things I hear little of is: I didn’t get it.
Several in my critique group have written short stories that I’ve read and while I enjoyed the writing I was left wondering what the point was. I knew there was one because the stories were strewn with symbolism. Symbolism I could only guess the meaning of.
The critiques came back on those stories with the usual red marks. I didn’t want to be the only one to ask, “what did that mean?” So, I almost didn’t. I didn’t want to appear stupid. Obviously, everyone else understood it.
Remember the story: The Emperor’s New Clothes? Well, that’s what came to mind. “Yes, great story. Deeply thought provoking. Yes, absolutely amazing.” Or in other words, “Yes, I see the emperor’s clothes. Beautiful. Just beautiful.”
I would hate someone to read my work and come to a wrong conclusion. What if at the end of the story the reader is unclear what it all meant? They will surely fill in the blanks for themself and most likely their perceived meaning of my work will be way off from the one I intended. Maybe the one they provide is hell is only a figment of my insane main character’s imagination and as soon as she gets on medication, she’ll stop hallucinating?
Ahh. All my work would be in vain. That is not what I want the reader to come away with. The point was that there is a hell, demons are real, and their is a very real spritual battle being fought all around us. That’s no good.
If your reader is unsure of the meaning of your story, they will provide one. It very likely will not be the one you intended. To me, that’s a little scary.
I decided I want to know what people think my stories are about, and so I ask. With Saving Eden, my readers were clear on it. That was good. I don’t mind some wondering about inconsequential things. For instance, in The Demon Chaser, I have the devil carry around a skull he says belonged to his first human recruit.
One of my critters asked, “Is it Eve’s?”
Another, “Is it Cain’s?”
I didn’t think it was Eve’s, personally. But, for my story, it doesn’t matter. So, on that point, I’ll let there be debate. But not on my overall take away message. That one’s non-negotiable.
As for my critique friends, I decided to allow myself to appear stupid and ask them what the meaning of their stories were. One friend simply said it was literary fiction and it didn’t neccesarily have to make sense. In fact, some of the best appreciated literary fiction didn’t. He didn’t explain his story, or change it to make the meaning clearer.
With another critique partner, I suggested she ask everyone who read it what they thought it meant. I’m guessing she gets some interesting answers. Maybe some she doesn’t like. But, the truth is certainly better than everyone telling you how beautiful your garb is when you’re actually walking around butt naked.
So, go ahead and ask, “Does my story make sense to you? What do you think it meant?”
And if you get some answers that make you cringe, go back to your work and rewrite to clarify.
In other words, put some clothes on.