The Eye of the Beholder


I think it would jar to be shown what the author thinks it should look like (almost certainly different to what I think!).

This comment on an earlier blog got me thinking: once a story is written, who does the world belong to? True, it used to be the author’s vision alone, but then it got put into the public domain and given to those for whom it was written in the first place. My view of the world I built may be close to the reader’s – and how close depends on my skill as a writer – but it will never be exactly the same. Who’s to say that theirs is any less accurate?

Some people recently commented on a piece of mine, saying I managed to get an idea across very subtly. It wasn’t an idea I had even thought of, but what they saw did fit the scene. I may not have put it there, but it ended up there just the same through the involvement of the readers in the world.

And there’s the thing: books are a conversation, not a monologue. Just because the world, or character, is down on the page doesn’t stop it from evolving as readers bring their own interpretations and input.

I read a blog by a literary agent, who recently went to the LA Times Festival of Books and said that ideas by the author which weren’t included in the final book were discussed.

Scalzi insists that the writer, as original creator, can know things about his/her world that might not be included in the books, but that makes the knowledge no less valid. Grossman, on the other hand, believes in the sanctity of the text, where it’s only true if it ended up in the book.

If you aren’t telling your reader things, they can’t include them in their view of the world. So do they cease to be real in that setting, once the world goes public? It’s an interesting idea, especially when balanced against Resist the Urge to Explain.

Taking the idea one step further, can fanfic be thought to expand the world building? It’s a continuation of the conversation, and certainly becomes part of the setting in that particular reader’s head. Provided it doesn’t actively contradict something in the original text, who’s to say it’s wrong?

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