Recently, I posted a chapter for a story that I have been writing online and received some feedback on it that was a little disturbing. Besides the complaints of how the characters seemed to be acting “out of character” compared to the rest of my writing, I had complaints about a particular action carried out a by a group of girls in the chapter because the readers failed to understand the vocabulary and imagery used to set the scene.
Getting straight to the point, the girls flashed the guys at a private summer party while they were participating in a sporting match. One of the first responses I got of trenchant criticism likened the whole affair to a “Girls Gone Wild” scenario. Sadly, given what was written, if that was the first thought that came to mind, then I am saddened by this.
To explain, I likened the action a milder version of an Anasyrma salute. If you are unfamiliar with what that means, you can look it up online. Flashing, in of itself, is an act of exhibitionism. Anasyrma is not. It is done for the effect of the onlooker and in the setting of the scene it is clearly done to distract the onlookers, not for self gratification. The difference between what they did and Anasyrma was the fact that exposed their breasts instead of their nether regions. If this confuses you, think of a Scotsman in a kilt lifting and exposing himself to generate a response for the intended. What the female characters did could be interpreted as the same. What upsets me about this first point is that everyone who complained were quick to be politically correct and act offended instead of reading the context of how it was written. The story takes place in Europe, and it goes without saying there are many cultural differences to account for. While not a usual form of behavior here or across the pond, through context and cultural reference, its meaning would be implied. Anyone who jumped to conclusions failed to understand basic vocabulary written for the scene and has a significant lack of understanding of cultural differences.
The second point of their behavior is this: they are young adults emerging from adolescence. Even the most chaste, prudish and conservative teen or young adult tests the boundaries of their youth. I have seen girls have their nose in a book one moment and the next they are suddenly three sheets to the wind at some kegger. And these are individuals that you would least expect to throw caution to the wind and have a wild moment.
So, what does this mean? Why would I write it? Plain and simple. The human condition. People are unscripted and do the unexpected. The girl, who is usually prim and proper and flashing a group of boys the next, is a good but simple example of this. The first assumption would be that she caved to peer pressure. In some sense, maybe she did. However, on the other hand, perhaps we are too quick to rush to judgment and makes assumptions about the character’s motives. Our reasons for doing one thing may be different from another. And in the world of literature, anything is possible through the eyes of a character.
What intrigues us most as readers are the anomalies that a character exhibits. Why are we pulled in and intrigued by the man who spent most of his life being a pillar of society only to snap and become a serial killer the next? Or why are we mesmerized by a selfish woman who sells all her worldly possessions suddenly and starts helping others? The questions that come from observation will always be there as we delve into the lives of others, or in this case, the characters written on a page. Their reasons don’t have to be right or wrong for the sake of literature. They simply need to be a portrayal of the character’s reasoning which shows that human condition of the unexpected.
I have probably elucidated this one little aspect of my story more than needed, but there is a point to this. When you are a writer, expect what you write to get lost in translation from time to time as not every reader bears the intellect or aptitude to discern what you are saying. Writing too little makes your story fall short and writing too much insults your more intelligent readers and loses the rest to boredom that would typically fall in between because it is too “wordy.” Enough should be inferred through flowing and descriptive vocabulary with just enough imagery to convey the scene or your thoughts without explicit detail. Because the things that need to be said in detail will always be, and everything else is up to the imagination of the reader as the scene is set by the author.
And if you are one of my many readers who is left scratching your head because I happen to say superfluous instead of unnecessary or consternation instead of dismay, then may I introduce you to an exceptional book called a dictionary. Find the idea of taking out a dictionary when reading a story strange? Well, welcome to my world. Growing up, I had a dictionary that had every word highlighted that I had to look up. I was your proverbial Diane Court without John Cusack and a boombox sitting outside my house. I was able to learn new words and derive meaning from the imagery painted in the stories I read, and it has helped me in my dialog with others as well as with my writing over the years.
In closing, and with all other defense of my writing aside, I leave you with one thought that you should always think as a writer when criticized in a less than constructive way due to your readers lack of understanding:
I am not responsible for what you understand, only for what I write.