Here’s something that I’ve lived by for a long time: “What a book means can be open to the reader but what happened cannot be open to the reader.” I love this statement because I am only able to write what happens, and how the character believed or reacted. Internal dialog is great, but it’s only the opinion of the character whose point of view you’re in and is unreliable for that reason. In fact, when people talk about reliable and unreliable narrators, I find it a bit crazy. If I’m telling a story, it’s coming through me, and if you’re telling a story, it’s coming through you. Don’t tell me that one is more reliable than the other. I know that’s on the highest level, and we’re often talking about character only, but I just wanted to point that out.
So, what happens in a book—unless you use a first person point of view—should be explained clearly, and without bias, if that’s even possible. That way, the reader can and will determine the book’s meaning for him or her self. I say, ‘if that’s possible’ because every writer gets to choose what they show. If I don’t like something, it’s easy to write it as dark (literally), or with many shadows. And if I do like something, it’s just as easy to write it in sunlight. These choices do matter. This is editorializing.
I like books where the editorializing is minimal. I want the author to tell me the story, show me what happens in the scene. A lot can be portrayed by what characters say to one another, or how they try to manipulate one another. Plus, like the old adage, “Action speaks louder than words,” what happens in a novel takes on weight. How people act, how they walk, their facial expressions, can speak volumes about a person.
I’m not talking about show don’t tell here. In fact, if your characters argue a lot, I don’t want to read pages upon pages of their arguments. Sometimes, please, oh, please, just tell me they argued again. Or if they have a certain habit, don’t show me every time. I’ll start to see it without being shown. No, I mean how they react to situations in the book. I want to watch it happen so that I can make up my mind what it means to me.
I suppose that’s why I’m not always crazy about books written in first person. I get their monologue. I get what they claim happens, but I don’t get to see it myself, and therefore make up my own mind. I’m driven through the book through their eyes, often with all the BS that goes with it. Every first person narrative is unreliable by nature. That’s why memoirs don’t typically interest me. I don’t want the writer’s opinion, I want to make up my own mind.
So, it’s my belief that a well-written book should provide me with plenty of content, and as little editorializing as possible. That way I can decide what I think it’s about. I become part of the creativity of the book. Isn’t that what’s so great about reading in the first place?
Terry Persun writes in many genres, including historical fiction, mainstream, literary, and science fiction/fantasy. He is a Pushcart nominee. His historical novel, Sweet Song, was a Silver IPPY Award Winner. His new fantasy novel is Doublesight. Terry’s utopian / dystopian novel, Cathedral of Dreams was a ForeWord magazine Book of the Year finalist in the science fiction category. His other science fiction titles include the sci-fi thriller Revision 7: DNA and the newly released space opera, Hear No Evil.