It’s all too easy to assume that just because we think or feel a certain way, others will think or feel the same. This however is not the case and I think that we would be better equipped in our dealings with others if we were aware of this. Stick with me and I will show you where I am going with this. I attend a critique session once a month with my writers’ group. My daughter writes too and is also a member of the same writers’ group. We critique the submissions prior to the session and usually have a chat about them before hand. This month my girlfriend also read the submissions and the three of us had a long and interesting discussion about them. Funnily enough we all had differing opinions and interpreted the content of the stories in different ways.
Here is an example. One submission was about a man who had passed away. The whole story was done with internal monologue as the guy pieced together what was going on through his thoughts. My very basic understanding of the story was that the man had died in a car crash and was waiting for death to take him to hell. Now that is a very basic outline, I don’t want to give away the detail as it wasn’t my story and I haven’t asked the author if they are okay with me doing so, but I will say that in the detail was a really great concept. The problem I had however, was the way it was written. I felt the thoughts were not natural and that nobody talks that much in their head about all the things this guy was thinking about. So I gave it to my girlfriend to read and she loved it! I couldn’t understand how she had readily accepted the way this guy was thinking and piecing stuff together in his mind so I asked her, “Do you really talk to yourself like that in your head?” Much to my amazement she replied, “Actually, I do.” I couldn’t believe it, and we ended up having a long discussion about the differences in the way we think. My daughter was up next. She hated the story, not just because the way it was written, but also because of the characters unlikable personality.
To my next point, remember how I said I thought it was about a man who died and was going to hell? Well I got this vibe from the mean persona the character had, the bleak environment created by the world building and the sensory elements used within the story. My girlfriend on the other hand had a totally different idea. She figured that he had died and was going to a town for the dead. This was just one story and there were 3 others that we also had differences of opinion on.
What I took from this is that everyone is different. Not just in our appearances, but in our beliefs, our attitudes, the way we think, what we like and what we don’t like. As a writer it is important to know this and to understand it, whether you are targeting a certain audience or working out which comments are valid in a critique. There isn’t a one size fits all technique in writing, you can’t please everyone, so my advice is ‘stay true to yourself’.