Sunday, January 15, 2012

I'm baaaaaack!

Did you think I got lost?  Or was swept away by the flood?  Naw!  I just got busy or lazy and took time relocating to my winter home.  To remind you of the beauty down here, the picture above is of Lake Okeechobee at sunset in the winter. Look.  No snow.

This year I want to discuss different aspects of writing and try to get my readers more involved in the blog.  So look for something different here.  I’ll try to post twice each month.

Whose Story, Whose Imagination?

Here’s something I found in The Palm Beach Post on Friday, Dec 9.  It was entitled “Harry Potter and the Imagination Thief” and was written for the LA Times by Talya Meyers, a doctoral student at Stanford University.  In examining the J. K. Rowling’s website, Pottermore, Ms. Meyers suggests that, although meant to be interactive, Rowling provides so much information about Potter’s world after the end of the books that those who visit the site may be disappointed to learn what they imagined might happen to Harry and his friends is not at all what Rowling says happens.  Meyers contends that by telling us what Rowling sees as Harry’s future (her imagination) she steals what we the readers might have imagined.  I’m extrapolating now, but I assume Meyers is saying that if Rowling had written another book with all this information in it, that might have been fine, a continuation of the Potter story, but instead Meyers says Rowling has added to what is already contained in the books and given us the Potter world beyond them.  We are not free to imagine for ourselves what Potter’s life might become as he grows up, raises a family, and ages.

I wonder if this is why I usually don’t like a movie better than the book.  The movie makes the book concrete, and what I’ve imagined reading the book is replaced by the movie’s take on the look of a character, the color of a house, the way the character delivers a line.  This isn’t always true for me.  I hear Tom Selleck’s voice each time I read a Jesse Stone novel by Robert Parker.  That works for me.

So here’s my question.  Where does the author’s imagination end and the reader’s begin?  And should an author step in after the fact to assert what happens or what was really meant?  Does the book once published become the readers’ or is it the writer’s?  Perhaps authors can expect once their work is published to engage in a dialogue of imaginations between them and their readers. Pottermore might become this kind of place.  The site is still in the testing stage, so perhaps we must wait and see.  What do you think?


  1. I believe it's the readers. I hated when she told us Dumbeldore was gay. I never saw that, so it ruined part of the story line for me.

    If you want your readers to know it, put it in the book. If not, it's their imagination as to what happens.

  2. Of course the "ever-afterword" is the author's; most of the unstated material pertaining to the novel is in the necessary back-story, even if it's only lurking in the writer's fevered unconscious.
    My first heroine gave up her handsome, confident, wealthy Prince Charming to return to academe and lived to be a sour old maid. She had her reasons, carefully included in the novel's structure. My daughter says I'm mistaken, that the girl married: I say she just doesn't have all the facts, and I do.

  3. I'll rephrase here what Paul (or possibly John) said, years after the Beatles achieved fame. He was amazed at what listeners found in the lyrics. That stuff hadn't been put there, but the fans found it. I say, whatever the fans found, it made them happy and who's to say the subtext wasn't in the writer's subconscious?

  4. I think another great analogy is from one of my all-time favorite songwriters, Joni Mitchell.
    "Your songs are like your conceive them, nurture them, and then send them out into the world(paraphrased)."
    I've always said in interviews that if you put twenty people in a room and play a song, you're going to get twenty different interpretations. That's one reason I don't normally put a lot of physical description of my characters. When I used to read (rarely now, lol!) no matter what the author described (excepting Tolkien) I immediately formed my own picture of the character. Regardless that the heroine has flaming red hair and green eyes, in my head her image is a brown eyed brunette. I form my own picture and I hope to allow my readers to form theirs.

  5. No, I don't think the author or anyone else should step in after the book has been published to assert what was really meant or what happens to the characters after the book. Let readers form their own images; that's why we read fiction.
    I don't usually like the movie as well as the book either for the same reasons you've mentioned. However, I've found exceptions. "Gone with the Wind," and "The Godfather" come to mind.
    Both authors had given me enough detailed information that I was able to accurately visualize the characters and setting. And, in both cases, the movie stayed true to the book and portrayed the characters as the author had written them. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen very often.

  6. I've read many books where you were left to draw your own conclusion about certain aspects of the story. I like being able to use my own imagination and don't really want the author to tell me different unless they do it in a book and explain it. Let readers imagine what they want to without the author coming in later and saying, "Now here's what would have happened, had I written another book." Let the readers use their imagination or write another book.

  7. While I don't like authors who spell everything out for you, I do like a book well written enough that I understand what the author wants me to get out of it. And yet, the people I conjure up while writing a book are going to be changed a bit by readers who add their own life experiences and relate to people they know with the same traits.

    Case in point: Does anyone really believe Stephanie Plum is anything like Katherine Heigel?

  8. Once my book is published, I expect readers to infuse it with their own world view. It allows them to participate in the creative process. That said, as a reader, I loathe it when I don't get enough information from the author. I always want to participate in taking the journey with the author as the 'tour director'. I hope my readers will have that same experience with my books.
    As a speaker, I've received comments after a presentation that have nothing to do with my subject matter. But what was heard was what the listener needed to hear. And those are the moments I cherish!
    I also enjoy comments on my books about a minor character or interesting diversion I'd added (or which appeared out of nowhere when I was writing.)
    The whole process is like some strange alchemy over which I have no real control, but in which I have the joy of participating - along with my readers.
    Oh, and Sunny, no I don't think so. But my husband does. Go figure!

  9. One of the great joys of reading, as opposed to the visual media, is being able to use your imagination to 'grow' the characters. They may not always fit what the author had in mind. But, then, characters don't always conform to what the author originally had in mind either.

  10. Like you, Lesley, I like to imagine things in great detail, and seldom want to be interrupted or corrected by the author's take on things, after the end of a book. That's why the open-ended ending (like in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind) is so good for me.

    Similarly, I seldom wish to see the "outtakes" or "special scenes" or interview with the director at the end of a DVD. I like to preserve the magic. What I do is avoid Q and A sessions at the back of the book, if I am invested in my own endings.

    Likewise, I would not be keen to let Pottermore influence my thoughts, and would avoid it. No one can force me to read it if I don't want to, thank heavens.

    Marta Chausée, author
    Resort to Murder

  11. After the author's novel has been published and sent out into the world I think "the rest of the story" belongs to the reader. I'm not talking about series, I mean the rest of an individual story. Most stories will have a satisfactory resolution (though I don't think the Harry Potter series did), and, if so, I can usually drop the story. But, in the case of HP and some others, I sometimes do fill in a continuation that suits me. I sometimes even fill in story details mid-novel before I learn what the resolution is going to be. But I'm a writer too, and admit to an over-active imagination. Current novel I'm reading, I am pretty sure a certain major character is going to be killed before the end and my imagination is already following that story line.

  12. Can we make a distinction? I write a series about an 84 year-old investigator. His name is Henry Grave, and I'm hoping to recount his adventures for many years to come. His adventures, I feel, are my territory, evolving in my hinterland. If you read the stories, you'll find some backstory woven in, as in any other novel. But once I put the book out there, I give up control. Henry's voice sounds like you want it to sound. Exactly what he looks like is up to you to decide. I think this is the nature of the relationship between writer and reader. Ultimately, the story unfolds as a collaboration.

    William Doonan

  13. Thanks for all your comments. It looks as if most of you are willing to let go of your work, kind of like letting your children grow up under your guidance, but then watching them go out into the world on their own.


  14. The imagination is also why I enjoy listening to old radio shows. They had half an hour to tell a story (less with commercials) and the listener had touse imagination. They couldn't describe everything. Same with books. If an author does a good job with descriptions, the reader can easily conjure up the scene.

  15. Paramount created a phenomina with "Star Trek." Fans continue to make up their own stories about the characters with fan fiction and home movies. That's the ultimate with appealing to the readers' imagination.
    Sally Carpenter