A Trick of Light




You've written a book. Maybe two. Worked up enough courage to let others besides the usual family, friends, and/or critique partners read your efforts, and that's when you realize something unexpected is happening. In addition to the feedback being overwhelmingly positive, these readers are telling you how much they absolutely love a certain aspect of the story, one that you felt was a minor sub-plot, an unconscious nuance or inner-theme that you layered in to add depth to the material. It's this particular story element that really speaks to the reader, drawing them in and selling them on your novel. And the remarkable part, it can be unique for different readers.

It's this level of reader diffusion and involvement that every author dreams of...and I call it a trick of light.

When you were a kid, did you ever play in a pond or stream full of fish, watching them glide through the water ever so gracefully? And maybe you were curious enough to try and reach in and grab one, only to come up empty because the fish isn't really where you thought it was? Scientist call that refraction. Rays of light are bent as they move from one medium (air) to another (water), creating an optical illusion that causes a person to see one thing, but reality proves to be slightly different. The fish in the water appears to be in one place, but it's actually somewhere else.

I contend that a writer's work can be subjected to this same phenomenon. We see the vision of our novel as one thing, but others are free to interpret it as something slightly different. I've read interviews of famous authors who talk about how their fans related to their work in a way that was sometimes a genuine surprise to them. For the most part this is a very positive experience and rewarding in so many ways, but there could be a down side as well. How many books have been banned from school libraries across the country all because of narrow-minded elucidation?

With every project I undertake, I'm determined to make it appealing to as broad an audience as I possibly can, while still serving my target genre. But what I really hope to do is achieve a trick of light...for my book to mean many things to many people. That doesn't mean it has to be literary fiction, either. Take Harry Potter for instance, J.K. Rowland has achieved that status.

A lofty goal...I know. But nobody said it would be easy. How about you...have you ever received feedback in that vein before?

39 comments

  1. I had feedback some time ago from my two books, very good feed back which made me feel it was all worthwhile.
    Yvonne.

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  2. Not yet, but I'm looking forward to it from you and from me!
    Heather

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  3. Hmm, not really. But I know what you mean and I love the way you describe it. :) Lovely post.

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  4. Yeah, I get that sometimes. People read my work and talk about my themes, and I'm like "What? You got THAT from my book?" I know I never wrote it intentionally, but somehow it's there. Really nice feeling.

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  5. I have a few times too - and it is both gratifying and surprising! :)

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  6. It's a great goal for any writer! I think it's fantastic is when someone outside of your target audience finds something appealing in your book.

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  7. I've never been there, but I hope to be one day. So far the only persons who have read my books are precisely family, friends and beta-readers.

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  8. It's always fascinating to learn how others perceive what I've written. And like you said, sometimes they connect with something you really didn't put much thought into but for some reason resonated with them. It's the same on the blog sometimes. I'll write a post I think is kind of a punt or too silly for anyone to get, and I'll end up with a big response. Weird.

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  9. Cool concept! I always find it interesting to hear what readers take away from certain scenes - sometimes it's exactly what I want, sometimes it's something new and different that I hadn't even consciously put there. I love building those layers in.

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  10. This has happened to me. With my latest story, a lot of people seem to really like my sea monster character, the mermaid prince and the guy who leads the castle siege - ALL of which I didn't really know would be part of the story until I got there. It's funny how things that I had planned, didn't really lead to any sort of feedback, but these minor things I threw in make people excited. Readers are funny that way :)

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  11. Like LG, I've also found that certain posts elicit a surprising response and it's often the posts I thought were a little on the lame side or unimaginative. It is very weird!

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  12. I find it interesting when others read my work and come up with something deep in my writing I may not have thought of. I think of all my classes of Shakespeare in school and if he was around now, would he be amazed at what we thought of?

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  13. DL, I love how you think about things and your perspective on those things. I want to achieve the same thing. I have received comments from some readers of my memoir that made me feel I have. I am very grateful.

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  14. Very true. Interesting thing is, readers will also find things you didn't necessarily consciously put into your book. That's the fun part. Readers bring their own perspectives on things...which is true not just for books, but other forms of art as well.

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  15. It ate my first comment. Crap, what did I say? I think it was something about the author putting things in completely by accident.

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  16. I love when a reader tells me they know something about the book and that means xyz will happen in the next one. I'm like, uh, sure it will. ;)

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  17. Great analogy. I've only experienced 'intellectual incest'...it's a marketing term meaning you (client)are so close to your manuscript (product) that you can't see how other's are seeing it. I like your description better.

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  18. I recently read this quote in Why We Write: "There are beautiful, beautiful books that never make the [New York Times bestsellers] list, and there's complete garbage on the list. Every writer knows that. Everyone knows that whether you get on the list, or how long you spend on the list, is not entirely a reflection of the quality of your work." ~Sebastian Junger

    So true, isn't it? You never know what's going to appeal to readers. Publishers, editors, writers try to predict it, and sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're not. It's a trick of the light!

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  19. Sounds like a good goal to me. Goals should be lofty. We should be shooting for the best. Not a watered down mediocrity.

    I guess that's why we need to pay attention to every detail and aspect of the novel. There is nothing you can just let coast.

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  20. Aim for the stars. =) I submit there's something to love about anyone's writing, it's just a question of how easily we can find it. I guess that's why the industry is so difficult, because everything is subjective. I'm cheering you from the sidelines!

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  21. "With every project I undertake, I'm determined to make it appealing to as broad an audience as I possibly can, while still serving my target genre."
    I agree with this. And it is very ambitious! But I can't help but wonder; is aiming at the widest market possible the same as steering clear of content that some may find offensive? I hope not.
    I have a strange curiosity for books that have been banned. I always want to find out what a culture found so disturbing/taboo/blasphemous/etc. about those books. Some books are just ahead of their time or misunderstood. Some, however, actually earn it.

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  22. The editor who bought my most recent book gave me some glowing praise on aspects of it that none of my beta readers, crit partners, or family focused on. And I was thrilled that she noticed those little aspects -- moments I tried hard to create and nobody else commented on. I put them there on purpose. They were important to me. And she got it!

    Which makes me all the more sad that she has since retired. I don't know who I will work with next on this project. I just hope it is someone who "gets it" the way she did!

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  23. A recent review of one of my books interpreted a relationship in a different way from any others. It was a neat little surprise to read.

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  24. I've experienced two things that are similar to this. First, people who love a particular character, and second, people who ask if I've read a study that describes a section of my book.

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  25. Amazing picture and unique perspective on how the different facets of your writing reflect in different ways. I'm tucking this post into my gray matter.

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  26. I ended up changing the title of my current WIP after a conversation with one of my critique partners about certain aspects of the story I'd never considered. The best part is, the new title suits much better than the old one did!

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  27. I have never published a book, but I have seen that happen on my blog dozens of times. I will write a post and the piece of information that seems to get the most attention was just a small mention as far as I was concerned. The feedback is positive, but what not what I thought I was writing about. It's interesting how that happens.

    Stopping in from the A to Z Challenge. This will be my first year participating.

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  28. Right now, I'm brainstorming for a WIP and the story could mean different things to different people. Hopefully, each interpretation by each reader will be a positive one, but I know I don't have full control over what or how people think. I can only try my best. (I'm being bad. I really need to finish my current WIP before I consider starting another WIP, but my creative mind likes to wander..)

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  29. I haven't received that type of comment, yet, but I hope to one day.

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  30. An inspirational comment and one that I hope to hear one day...
    A trick of light... what a lovely picture too.

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  31. Yeah my fantasy novel many positive responses, but with every person liking it for a different reason. It's probably the big reason why I'm absolutely convinced that I have something good, no matter how many times agents etc. reject it.

    The story simply has broad appeal.

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  32. Great post, DL! Yes, I have, and I LOVE it when that happens! It's so cool to think other readers are seeing things I didn't even intend! When it's in a good way, of course--LOL! Here's to achieving our writing dreams~ <3

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  33. Yes. And it was very humbling. I realized my story was no longer MY story. It belonged to the readers. I think this is why Margaret Mitchell refused to write a sequel. GWTW was beloved and every reader had their own angle and she wasn't about to tell a single one they were wrong.

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  34. It's definitely true that every reader brings their own values and opinions to anything they do. One reader may think your book is really about A while another may be sure it's really about Z. It's subjective. I rarely find very different opinions about what people, CPs and betas like about my books. My problem is the vast difference in what they don't like. It's hard to know how to revise if everyone disagrees.

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  35. My stories are primarily psychological, and it never ceases to amaze me what readers come away with. At the same time, I've learned the hard way not to lose sight of the tale I want to tell. It's so easy for a novice to fall into the trap of rewriting to someone else's expectations, thinking their story should be this instead of that, not realizing it can be both. You state the goal beautifully: to make our books mean many things to many people.

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  36. Brilliant post, DL. I know I'm still in the honeymoon phase of thinking that my book will be enjoyed by everyone the way I'm hoping it will be--but it won't. People will like, or dislike it, in ways I won't conceive of. It gives me heartburn!

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  37. Great post! Yes, I've experienced this in a big way. One of my beta readers reacted very strongly to parts of my book... did a lot of crying... and it was because one of the characters reminded her so much of her mother. So she reacted in a completely personal way that I could never have foreseen. (Made me feel like a million bucks, too)

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  38. This is a deep post, I love it. I'm overjoyed when someone 'gets it' about my story line, but it is also interesting when they point out something to me, that I didn't even see, feel or think about. That means my writing got very 'up close and personal' for them. I love when that happens.

    I try not to 'write to' anybody but my characters. You know that 'to thine own self be true' thing. We'll see how that works out, as in; will anybody want to publish 'mine own self'.

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  39. I love the way you describe this. I think, since we're all different, we take different meanings from stories, which is why book clubs are so great--all those difference of opinions. Being able to affect so many peeps in different ways is a true phenomenon.

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