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Authorial Intent & Me

January 11, 2012

Kicking off 2012 with a somewhat… well, not bitchy blog post, but with a topic that really annoys.

Authorial intent and who can say what that was.

In my book, the only person who can say what an author intended with their book is the author. Now, readers can take whatever they like from the book, have it mean whatever they want it to mean to them, but for a reader to say ‘This is what the author intended’ is just rubs at me. A reader cannot know my intent unless they speak to me directly and ask. 🙂

I know it’s a fine line between ‘The author intended this’ and ‘I think the author intended this’, but it’s an important line. Maybe it’s because I was such a big fan of Tolkien and, within that fandom, there was a lot of speculation about his intent with various stories and characters. I was always very aware of putting words into a dead man’s mouth, and I didn’t want to ever say this, definitively, was what J.R.R. Tolkien intended with what he wrote.

And so, now that I’m writing and publishing, I find myself perusing conversations and viewing the discussions with a much different eye. While I try to never jump in or insult my readers, it can raise my hackles when someone says ‘Such-and-such character was a just X, and the author shouldn’t have made them that way’. Well, my response—in my head, mind you—tends to be, maybe the author didn’t write them that way; it’s just how you, the reader, interpreted it. And that’s all well and good. Readers should interpret the works they read however they want. But to say the author meant it? I think that might be a little too far.

I never meant for Riley to be the ‘cheating boyfriend’.

I never intended Kasper to be the ‘creepy doctor’.

I never intended Logan to be the ‘abusive boyfriend’.

I never intended The Keeper to be a soapbox about Christianity.

However, these are all things that have been said to have been my intent with those characters, stories, rather than merely what a reader took away from the story. Maybe I’m being too sensitive about it, but words are powerful things to me. I choose them carefully when writing, when communicating, and when I review/share my views of books. Thus, perhaps, I’m putting too much weight in readers’ comments and how they word thing.

Still, before you say ‘The author intended X’, stop and think. Is it truly what the author intended—did the author say this is what they intended with their book?—or merely what you, the reader, took away from the book? As an author and reader, I’m much more interested in the latter when I come across reader discussion/reviews for books, whether they be mine or someone elses.

Happy 2012, everyone! I hope everyone’s holiday season was awesome and that the new year is full of prosperity and good luck.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Carole-Ann permalink
    January 11, 2012 4:32 pm

    I’m so totally with you on this! and from a reader’s POV, all I can say is that my vision of a character, or my interpretation of a scene, or my feeling/s when I finish a book, are entirely MINE.

    The author has put words on a page for ME to interpret; for ME to enjoy; for ME to get transported to another world. And if I don’t, then that is TOTALLY MY PROBLEM.

    There is always going to be the great divide for readers between like/don’t like; but to blame or chastise the author is really unacceptable. I think some readers forget the actual process of getting a book into print and how MANY people that has involved. They also forget that a book wouldn’t be IN print if all those people hadn’t liked it in the first place!

    So, SL, forget the snarky comments, please; there are loads of people like me who thoroughly enjoy anything you write (even if sometimes they/I don’t quite ‘get’ it)!


  2. January 17, 2012 4:46 pm

    Carole Ann — Everyone has their opinion, and I very much respect my readers’ opinions. I’m so glad I can make them FORM those opinions. 😀 But, when words are put into my mouth, I’m annoyed. >.> Still, at least I made them feel something through my work. That’s the great thing.

    But what a reader takes away from what I have written is all theirs. Not mine. I know what I intended and thought and took away from writing the book, but I’m not fool enough to think readers will take away something completely different from the reading. I think it’s just the insistence that an author meant this definitive thing when the author hasn’t actually said that at all. 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoy my writing, though! It’s what makes the less than pleasant comments easy to endure.

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