Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Should Authors Reveal the Meanings of Their Work?

I have been wondering about this question because I am stuck on either side as a creative writer and independent academic. In graduate school I wrote a paper analyzing Nagisa Oshima’s Gohatto and I had fixated on this one road that I found the theory interesting and I had found no definitive evidence from the Oshima contradicting me. Then a few days before my paper was due I stumbled on a footnote that was extraneously thrown into someone’s dissertation I was using. That footnote provided evidence that I was wrong (in the ballpark), but Oshima had explained what his film was about (beyond the plot). I had to start from scratch.

On the other hand, game developer Hidetaka Miyazaki who made Demons Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne stated in an interview that he preferred to not reveal the meanings behind the large number of mysteries in his games. He will talk about everything else, but he prefers to hear what his games are about from his fans (and interpreting lore is now a major portion of the community).

As a creative writer, most of my stories are simply the clothing for some message or something that I want to communicate. Kind of like a reverse analysis or something. I write with how I would interpret what I am writing in mind, rather than simply the story. When I think about others reading my work I really want them to “get” what I am trying to say and in my mind that analysis, like Oshima’s, is fixed (so only one right interpretation or analysis). However, I also see how that eliminates readers’ creative thinking, as well as comes off as pure pretension on the author’s part. At the same time though, if I create something, don’t I get to say what it is about?

I kind of feel like there is no right answer, or the only answer is “no comment.” In my situation, though, I feel I am too geared to digging and analyzing. So what does everyone else think?

Oh, I’ve changed my mind so many times about this sort of thing, I tend to think my pat answer should be, “Yes, there’s a little bit of that in there… whatever that is.” I like to think that I write in such a way to invite readers to buy in; so if they want to buy something they think they see there, more power to them."

Because there’s always going to be the very slight difference between what I wrote and what the reader reads that is actually magical and an important part of the process of bringing that story alive.

That’s a tough one. Like Greyflank, I flip-flop on it. I’m more likely to deny that I meant something than explain what I meant. If I have blue curtains in a story, someone might think the curtains symbolize peace or freedom. If that is really not what I meant, I’ll say so. (The curtains were blue because I like blue.) Sometimes, being mysterious about the meaning of a story is more fun for everyone.

But that’s just me.

That’s really all up to the Author. Most work isn’t written to have a ‘meaning’ it’s written to entertain (well at least most successful work).

But if people don’t get your intended meaning, unless you’re insulted by the one they assigned to it themselves, then I wouldn’t bother telling them.

I wrote one of my earlier novels as an action-adventure piece with thoughtful overtones-- this was one of my first in the genre, actually. It was set in an unusual political environment that was absolutely essential to the action in question-- the events described could only believably happen in very special sort of nation-state. Apparently at least 90% of those (I’m tempted to say 100%) who read it take it as a “political novel”, totally inverting the relative importance I personally saw in the setting versus the plotline. Yes, I explained the setting in great detail, because it was unusual and outside the experience of most readers. And yes, the first-person protagonist is a bit of a political fanatic, because the situation demanded that he would inevitably have to be one to be in the position he’s in. I even agree with a lot of the political sentiment expressed. But I didn’t mean for the novel to be a political screed! Not for one second!

Yet not only does nearly everyone take it as such, judging by the feedback since it’s gone commercial it’s been read far more by political types than readers of either furry or action adventure. The politics in it, in fact, generated so much “heat” and so drowned out the ideas I was trying to present (about transhumanism) on the mailing list where I originally posted it that I muttered out loud “All right, youse guys. You think this was political novel, I’ll give you a real political novel! Bwa-hahaha!” and wrote a far more ideologically-oriented sequel that, predictably, is generally liked even more by the same crowd. So…

On the one hand, it sort of hurt to be so grossly misunderstood. On the other, as a direct result I was introduced to a whole new class of readers I’d otherwise have never reached, earned my spurs in a field I’d never have touched except by accident, have sold dozens to a few hundred (I’m honestly not sure where within that spectrum the truth lies) books I’d never otherwise have sold, and wrote a second novel that I’m actually pretty proud of that otherwise never would’ve seen the light of day. So today, if anyone asks, heck yeah Freedom City is a political novel…

…because it’s up to the readers to determine the nature of the impact a book has upon them. Not the author.

As a warning, a lot of the first year critical theory reading I had to do, especially Barthes and Foucault’s opinions on authorship.

I don’t believe that an author should reveal the meaning of their work, as it only encourages the reader to follow the author’s opinion, rather than develop their own opinions as they read the piece. A good example would be the experience of reading Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. If you’re told it’s about homosexuality before you read it, it closes down all other avenues you may interpret the book.

When I write something, I’m fond of being ambiguous about certain things in order to encourage the reader to think for their own. I believe the reader finds the reading experience more rewarding when they come up with their own theory about the text, rather than what the author told. A more populist expression of this would be perhaps fan-fiction, as readers go against even the canonical text written by the author, and formulate their own.

So no, I do not believe a writer should reveal what a piece is about. Personally, I will not tell people what my poetry is about, for example. In that case, the power of the words is in their ambiguity. If we know what is being talked about, it looses its strength. It becomes linear, easily digested, easily forgotten.

Three cheers for Foucault! I was History of Sexuality, theories is power and such.

How do you respond when asked? The simplest questions can easily give so much away, but still only amount to a footnote. Like the question “what is your inspiration?” That is asked all the time and my current story would be betrayed if I answer it, at least honestly and completely.

As Rabbit touched on above, I’m not going to tell a reader their interpretation is wrong, even if their interpretation happens to be the complete opposite of what I intended (as has happened).

But as far as the topic goes of what I intended with a particular piece, I do expect to be considered the ultimate authority on that matter – at least until I’m dead, anyway. :slight_smile: I don’t think readers knowing what I intended will necessarily discourage their own interpretations – the world of fanfic shows, I think, that creators’ clear and vocal intent doesn’t destroy fans’ ability to disregard it and create their own canon. But I can also understand authors not wanting to explain things and wanting to leave them to the reader, especially if ambiguity was the intent in the first place, and I think at that point you just say “I can’t answer that question” and maybe explain why you can’t answer it.

One of the wonderful and horrible things about writing is that it is, indeed, a form of art. Like most art, different people are going to view it in different ways. My own opinion of it is I have a lot of fun when I hear back from readers who view one of my stories differently from what I had intended.

I was in a creative writing class when I first wrote Jester’s Hat, found here: http://www.furaffinity.net/view/3065601/
Be gentle, this was from nearly a decade ago X3 Anyway, the entire time I wrote it, the protagonist was your average funny man in my mind’s eye, though I never specified the gender within the story proper. We had to read what we wrote to the rest of the class, and received verbal feedback afterward. One girl commented that she felt the piece was a very powerful statement for same-sex love. I can’t begin to tell you how big my grin was. I never thought to look at it like that, and yet I liked it even better than my original idea.

Another experience was with “Tech Flesh”, my first published work that received Honorary Mention for the RF writing contest in 2013. I was approached by the judges after all the winners were announced and specifically asked whether the protagonist started as a fur or a human. Apparently they were very split on the idea to the point where it affected their judging. I was so tempted not to clear it up, again with that same ear-to-ear grin I had with Jester’s Hat. I caved though and told them my original idea, but it was so much fun hearing what they had to say and why they interpretted it that way.

I guess it helps that, as of yet, I have stories to tell far more than ideals. There are times when I want to get some form of a lesson across (“Cat Thief”, due to be published in ROAR6, is about there being more to people than meets the eye, and my story for Will of the Alpha Volume 3 is more about the importance of communication in any relationship), but as long as the reader enjoys the story, it’s no biggie if they don’t entirely get the message, or even get the wrong message. Perhaps my opinion that it’s a lot more fun to hear reader’s interpretations will change when I have something far more important to me to get across, or when missing the message can be an absolute detriment to myself or the story.

Until then, I look at it much like my experience with Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. For years I loved the song, thinking of a young couple escaping the turmoil of their family lives, taking a chance to find a life of their own. For years my mind kept skipping on the last few lines of verse. I finally looked up the lyrics one day, and now I have to change the station whenever it comes on. I still love the music, but the song has taken such a sad turn for me that I can’t listen to it without tearing up. By learning the true meaning, the joy and hope has been drained from the song for me. I’d rather not do anything like that to my readers.

That is where I am Munchkin. The story I am writing to hopefully hit novel length ends like many doomed romances. I want to justify the actions at the end by burying the justification throughout the book. I don’t want a Romeo and Juliett romanticized ending because the queer and furry communities are already so vulnerable to these issues. At the same time, I am trying to write with dual meaning where it could be a simple Victorian romance or a more sinister look at class, “race,” gender, power, and sexuality. I want the reader to be able to identify the deeper, speculative reading on their own, but I am worried that only the established romance trope will be read. I suppose I could just say it is meant as a deconstructed romance XD.

Most of my story ideas come from thinking about how to represent what I have studied in compelling fiction, which is why I am worried about this.

I suppose in some cases you have to trust the reader. There are going to be those who take it at face value, those who draw completely different conclusions than what you intended, those who will see what you’re doing, and those who won’t acknowledge what you’re doing even if you beat them over the head with the obvious. What you might consider is letting it out into the world for a few years, then offer up what you intended. That way you can let the readers who enjoy analyzing works on their own have some fun with it before dropping the truth on them, and see if your reveal is even needed. You’ll have readers who had honestly been wondering for those few years that will be thrilled to get the truth straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Just understand, you might highly disappoint others who interpret it differently.

Indeed, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality were my favourite things I read in that regard.

Hmm, true. Sometimes the author can reveal a way to interpret their work, however, I still believe that if you can reasonably justify why you hold a differing opinion, then said opinion is valid. Of course, part of the joy of that is that people can argue against your opinion. For example, there was an interpretation of Lord of the Rings where they thought Gandalf’s plan all along was to get the fellowship to use the eagles. They based that on Gandalf’s utterance of “fly you fools” when he falls at Khazad-Dum. However, you can easily disprove that opinion when it means to flee, due to Tolkien’s use of antiquated English.

Yep, I just summed up critical discourse. That’s the thing though; it’s a conversation about works, meaning can run amok, and others can prove of disprove alternatives. The only reason the author’s interpretation gets cast as ‘the’ interpretation is because we privilege the author. Really, I’d just say that it all depends how well you can justify your opinion.