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Finding Meaning In Stories


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It's really interesting when I write something that I've imagined "means" one thing, and a reader sees it quite differently--even the opposite--of what I meant. I find it's reassuring, or affirming, when I can tell from a reader's comments that they understood the story the way I meant it to be, but having readers come up different ideas and interpretations is much more intriguing. It can also add a lot of depth to the story, if it's still in the planning/writing stage.

 

An early reader of my latest story saw it as the story of a guy faithfully pursuing a hardened, abandoned woman. I could see that interpretation made sense, but I meant it to be (among other things) the story of a discouraged and overall lame guy finding courage and new purpose in his determination to protect this woman.  In a way, she's supposed to be his shining ideal, rather than the other way around.

 

So has anybody else had readers come up with new, unexpected interpretations of your stories? Or just read them completely (infuriatingly? hilariously?) wrong?

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I've been a Toastmaster for a couple of decades and have delivered over 100 speeches to members of that organization. Each speech gets an evaluation, also delivered as a quickly-prepared speech, and I'm amazed at how regularly people hear things in my speeches that I've never said. I never mention it to the Evaluator, but it's actually a bit disconcerting how often people hear something very different from what we say. (Wiio's First law Of Communication states that communication usually fails, except by accident...) To me, it's a warning to make sure I express myself extremely clearly, and add some redundant-but-not-repetitious info to make the points that are really crucial.

 

OTOH, some clever writers can make use of multiple interpretations. The stage play of Phantom of the Opera will be seen by most guys and some women as the struggle of a hero to free a vulnerable woman from the psychological control of a maniac. But a number of women (including a large percentage of those really enthusiastic about the play) see it as the story of a woman making a gripping romantic choice between one man who's strong, handsome, and rich, and another man who's mysterious, powerful, and dangerous.

 

I was initially surprised to see the huge number of women who were purchasing these red velvet roses at the concession area, which were a symbol of The Phantom. Seemed at first to me like going to some Star Wars festival, with the preferred purchases being Darth Vader paraphernalia.  It took me a few minutes to catch on to what was happening...

 

Multiple interpretations are great, I guess, but you don't want to leave that up to chance. Too many people get too offended by too trivial a comment, these days...

Edited by Wes B
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1 hour ago, Wes B said:

Multiple interpretations are great, I guess, but you don't want to leave that up to chance. Too many people get too offended by too trivial a comment, these days...

 

Fortunately, that's less likely to happen with a fictional story, I would think...but who knows?

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I don't think alternative interpretations are a bad thing.

 

Past experiences and perspective inform our interpretation of future experiences and life is such that a single event can have embedded in it several true interpretations. We may have one interpretation in mind at the time of writing but it shouldn't be surprising that readers with different past experiences and perspectives pick up on others we weren't considering. 

Unfortunately many people also interpret stories to satisfy their pre-existing biases. These can be the most frustrating readers because it is often these biases that authors hope to persuade with their readers away from. 

 

If your reader gets the oposite message of what you are trying to convey though you may need some rewrites. 

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