Speak for Yourself!

One of the things that many artists strive for is to create a lasting, memorable work. A piece of art that will continue to convey a message throughout the years, and quite possibly, even after the artist has passed away.

It doesn’t take much to think of numerous, memorable examples. Paintings, sculptures, music and yes, literature, all have managed to change society and challenging perceptions throughout the centuries. Indeed, many artists hope to create something that will live on long after they do.

That being said, however, there are some writers who fall into the trap of feeling like they need to explain their works. I see this most often from those just starting out with this medium, but even experienced writers sometimes do this as well.

When writers ask for advice, I tend to give it. I have a tendency to be brutally honest in my feedback. I provide my interpretation and offer suggestions as to what can be done to improve it. Sometimes, unfortunately the writing is so poorly done that I recommend a full rewrite. This doesn’t happen often, but it has happened.

However, there are some writers who get extremely defensive when they hear my advice. They immediately go into “explain mode.” This is what their character is thinking! This is why he acted that way! You just don’t get it!

One thing that I tend to point out is something that I’ve had to learn as well. The author can’t go around to everyone who has read their works and tell them what it is supposed to mean. It could be possible to include an explanation (maybe a chapter or two in the back), but this is likely not going to sell well. Most readers of fiction will want to read the story, not the exposition.

As a result, I encourage this piece of advice most of all – your works should speak for themselves. If you are trying to convey a message, then it should be apparent in the narrative. Certainly not to a blunt, over the top fashion (unless that’s what your audience wants, of course), but in such a way that there can be little question about what you, as the author, intended.

Writers and authors have an advantage over other artistic mediums for this. Once a painting, a song, or even a television show or movie is released to the public, then it is subject to interpretation from everyone. Quite often, the meaning of the message is completely lost, as the general public interpret the message to be the complete opposite. The songs “Shiny Happy People” from R.E.M., and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” come to mind as examples.

But authors can release their works to a small group of people – say an editor, friends and family, or a select group of beta readers – and gather feedback from them. Good authors will carefully consider this feedback. Did the readers pull out what the author intended them to pull out? Or was there some sort of break down in the narrative? Rather than go into “explain mode,” they step back and carefully examine what they wrote. Why did the readers think that? Is that a problem? What can be changed to steer the story back on point?

Sometimes this won’t be an issue at all. Maybe the author will find this interpretation to be humorous, or even better than what they had intended in the first place! But usually, the author needs to perform some serious re-examination of their work. There’s nothing wrong with this at all! Instead, good writers thrive on this sort of feedback – so readers, take that as your cue to pull no punches! That way the writer can shape their story into what they really want.

Don’t try to defend your works. Take in that feedback, and even if it hurts, remember that you need it if you want to get better. Cherish the opportunity to shape and refine your work into a masterpiece.

And most of all, keep on writing!