I found myself reading Ralph Waldo Emerson recently for an assignment at school. Now, it has been a while since I’ve visited his works, and to be honest I was looking forward to it. In the book that we use there are small biographies before the author’s selected works. In Emerson’s biography, something struck me and I immediately knew I wanted to talk about it. That’s one great thing about having a blog. You can talk about, well, anything you want to, but back to the point. In the biography, it is mentioned that Emerson’s works are particularly demanding on readers. This wasn’t what grabbed me. Anyone can read his writings and notice the complexity of thought and matter and easily come to this conclusion. Instead, it was something else that intrigued me.
“There is creative readings as well as creative writing.”
I can’t really tell you the punch the above sentence delivered to me, but let’s just say it caused my gears to turn. Emerson is a man who was so wrapped up in the notion of self and individualism that he brought it to his writing in the sense of thinking of the reader. What I mean is, he wants the reader to be individual, to have a separate experience, one all their own, when they read his work. He’s all right with one reader feeling a certain way about story A and another reader feeling completely different. If the first person was taken to the distant reaches of the universe with the story, and the second person was left leaning against the tree that held them up as they read, again, he was fine with that. He respected the experience just for the sake of having one.
The book went on to say, “Emerson’s language can be elliptical and sometimes maddeningly abstract, but there is no American writer who placed greater importance on the reader’s active interpretive role in generating new meanings and ways of seeing the world” (The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Eighth Edition, Volume B, 214).
As a writer, I write stories that bend the rules as we know them. I ask for the reader to willingly suspend their belief and enter the worlds that I construct. Ultimately, I want them to experience what my characters experience, to see them like I do, to make them as real to themselves as I see them when I write, and I want them to feel the characters’ feelings whether they are happy, sad, scared, what have you. As a reader I like the stories that are able to invoke these emotions and put me in their worlds the best. When you get lost in a story, that is a good sign of some great writing. But for a writer to write specifically so that the reader would be able to interpret the story and take from it an individual view takes it one step further.
Do most writers write with this in mind, or are they writing to hit beats and plot points, conforming to a spreadsheet of moments, structure or events they feel are necessary to take place? For genre fiction, I see more of this, certainly, but what if a genre fiction writer were to also employ this element in their writing? I would think that the story would be richer, more robust. This is not to say that some writers aren’t doing this already, only that I’m curious to know what would happen if it were incorporated in a big way. This would allow a reader to have their own experience, their own adventure. Up the ante, if you will.
Have we, as writers, lost our way?