Saturday, June 16, 2012

Death of the Author

Hey Scribblers!
As promised, guest blogger Teresa Loesch will now share on an important topic for writers: Death of the Author. *applause*

To my fellow writers: have you ever met an Explainer?

If you have, you certainly remember the experience. You read the Explainer’s work, you made notes, you formed opinions. You worked so hard to give them the most helpful critique ever. You cared.

Then you got to class, and some variation of the following conversation took place: (rendered in play format, since Christy mentioned I write them)

[Scene: a creative writing classroom, in the middle of a workshop critique of someone’s work.]

You: On page seven, when your protagonist was backing away from the campfire, it didn’t really make any impression on me. It could have been shorter.

Explainer: Well, that’s actually very important. The protagonist actually has a petrifying fear of open flame. 

You: Oh? That’s not mentioned.

Explainer: It was implied with the shifting shadows in their aunt’s house.

You: Oh, see, that wasn’t very clear to me.

Explainer: Well, alright. If you couldn’t see it…  

You: It could have been clearer.

Explainer: You missed it.

You: …

Explainer: *blah blah blah you read the story wrong and I’m a snob and it’s the way it is because I said so a long speech about the story goes here*

You: …

Explainer: *blah blah blah tons and tons of details and facts and things that weren’t even in the story why are they telling me oh for the love of all things good this is so boring I wonder what’s for lunch later*

You: … Okay, so why didn’t you put any of that into the actual story?

Teacher: Well, time’s up! Next person…

 [End Scene]

The Explainer already knows everything about their story, and if you didn’t get the exact impression that they intended to write, that’s YOUR fault. You’re a bad reader, and you should feel badly about it!

 I am officially making this farce academic with the introduction of today’s theme: death of the author. Not a literal death, but dead to the reading audience. Meaning, the author can’t explain everything away.

Basically, “death of the author” says that anything you want to impart, whether it be theme or detail, important or not, needs to be said in your written work. If you think a story should be sad, it’s your job to get in there and break the reader’s heart. If people who read it aren’t sad, then it’s your fault. I’m going to say that again:

 If the reader doesn’t ‘get’ your story, it is YOUR FAULT.

You should write your story with such clarity that the things you mean to say can’t be avoided without supernatural powers of obliviousness.

To put it another way, if I were talking to you and mumbled in a whisper, whose fault would it be if you couldn’t hear me?

That’s right, it would be my, the speaker’s, fault. If I want people to understand me I should speak clearly and loudly. If I choose not to do that, it’s no one’s fault but mine when no one listens.

If you are feeling guilty at this point… you should. I’m here to tell you that no one likes that behavior, and you could be running off people who honestly want to help you. However, just like any behavior, you can change it starting IMMEDIATELY!

How to Not Be An Explainer:

If you’re being critiqued…

1. Keep your mouth shut. Even if you have an answer for a critique or suggestion, now is not the time to mention it. When it’s actually in the story, perhaps in a direct quote, you can mention it. Otherwise the only words that should pass your lips should be variations on “thank you for your insight” and asking people to clarify their statements. Do your talking in the printed word.

2. Remember that everyone has valid input. People probably aren’t lying to you, so this is insight how to someone other than yourself feels about your work. Accept it, especially when it’s not what you’re hoping to hear. It can hurt to learn something you worked hard on isn’t working, but think how much more it would hurt if no one told you and it just went on being horrible and everyone thought so but YOU NEVER KNEW.

3. Even if something is in the text and you think the person honestly did miss it… make it harder to miss in the next draft, and let it slide this time.

4. If someone is harping on a point that you think you addressed, perhaps not clearly enough, try to politely let them know you got the message and will increase its visibility in the next draft.

5. Whenever the urge takes me to become an Explainer, I remember the irritation they produce in me, and that kills any urge I have to be like them.

6. Any time you spend talking in your critique is time someone could have spent giving advice or, better yet, heaping you with delicious praise. I’d much rather hear someone else praising my work than me justifying myself to the stony silence of irritated fellows.

So, my fellow writers, if you want to keep friends and actually get something of value out of critiques, please, please, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL GOOD THINGS… don’t be an Explainer.

For more information about Teresa, see my last blog post, where I introduced her and her blog (at the bottom).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, T, for expressing so eloquently what I, a home school mom, have been saying every time I turn back school work to my children. If it's not on the page, I didn't get it!