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Tag Archives: meaning

Benjamin Solah dropped a bombshell on the comment section of this post, one so big I thought it deserved its own post.

So here we go:

Benjamin agreed with the idea behind the post that readers can go too far in search of hidden meanings or agendas.



There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the world of letters. Just as readers enter the writer’s pocket universe with a series of preconceptions so do author’s create them with their own.

They can be about race, violence, war, politics, civilization, sex, morality, you name it. And they exists whether the author wants to acknowledge them or not. Therefore they slip into the spaces between the lines, mold our word choice and serve as the dark matter/dark energy that powers our creations.

A personal example:

If I had written a story a decade ago with two characters of different racial backgrounds, the character of the dominant sociopolitical structure would have exuded confidence in the idea of “color blindness”, that is, he would have claimed “I don’t see color, I see people”, as it that were a positive value. Having experienced racism from both sides (dominant/oppressed) I can tell you that statement is a load of bullshit. It’s the kind of statement which paves the proverbial road.

Hell is that way. —>

I never meant anything by it. It seemed, at the time, a perfectly reasonable statement made in good faith. But it wasn’t and had someone done an analysis of the character highlighting their racial bias/ignorance they would be right, no matter how many times I tried to defend it.

Sometimes the dog is just a dog, until it starts chewing on a bundle of blond hair encrusted with blood on one end. Then it is something completely different.

Authors, we write what we write and even we don’t know all that lies beneath our words.

Readers, you read what we write and sometimes you see things that we can not (or don’t want to) see.

Art lies in the points in between.

Go on, chew on that while listening to the mellow sounds of Semisonic:

You written the best book possible. It gets you an agent, then after a little more tinkering it nets you a good deal with a leading publisher. After that it hits the shelves and climbs the book sales charts. You’re a published author now.

Then it happens;

It could be on your first book tour,

Or when you decided to check out the forums dedicated to your masterpiece,

Or in a review from a local newspaper.

The speaker describes in loving detail some aspect of the book and then you do a double take.

Did I just read/hear that?

Did some interpret the dog as an extension of man’s need to exploit all living things under an antiquated patriarchal structure?

Say what now? It’s just a bloody dog!

It’s the main characters pet.

That is it.

Nothing more and nothing less.

But not for the reader. He has gone and injected symbolism into your work. You try to refute it by writing letters, sending emails, twittering to anyone who will listen, but it’s too late. The dog has become more than just a dog.

You write a sequel where you put a very long scene of the dog licking himself.

“That should do it!” you say to yourself. Out loud. Your wife looks at you askance from the kitchen with a look that screams I fear for your sanity, sweety.

Months later the forums explode with discussion of whether or not the fact that the dog licked himself left to right is/was more significant than the colors of the rug which somehow are a clue to the meaning of life.


As writers we endeavor to inject meaning into our works. Nothing brings us more joy (besides the paychecks) the way readers unwrap the subtle layers of word play. But sometimes they go too far. They either unravel the whole tapestry with rusty scissors or seem to be reading a completely different book. The more you shout “It’s just a dog!” the more they say “but it got to mean something!

There is really nothing you can do about it except write a short paragraph in a blog saying, “This is what it means” and praying that most readers will get it.


Because as I learned in my philosophy of art class so many years before, no piece of art is complete until it meets its audience. A book is just a book until someone reads it. Reading is a deeply personal experience, a conversation between author and reader and like any conversation everything said is open to interpretation.


People walk around with a set of prejudices, some conscious, most unconscious. As their eyes lift the words from the page an into their mind, their brains try to order these words in ways that fit their preconceptions. They want/need your words to fit these preexisting notions.

At least they like what you wrote and are willing to read it.

Don’t let it get it to you.

It get’s worse when they completely misunderstand and hate you for it.

Or use it to attack something that has nothing to do with you or your work.

Go back to writing your next book and keep cashing those paychecks. Because your wife is right, you are insane. But you’re the kind of loony that pays the bills, so who cares.

And now a word from our sponsor(s):

Well, the course is set and we are lock and loaded. As of midnight we start sliding down the crazy chute to NaNoville!

Here is a hint of what my novel will be about:

Enjoy the ride!

Yes, what was once just another WIP has become my NaNo project. Expect updates and press releases as well as much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Enjoy!