Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Interpreter

When we were  in school, we wrote analytical papers that looked at all sides of a problem. Unfortunately, most teachers and college professors considered works of literature problems to be analyzed. For years this gave me a lopsided view of both literature and analytical papers.

That’s why I like the concept of the Interpreter better. It’s okay to show your bias, as long as you’re honest about it. You’re finding meaning in data, examining events and tracing them back to their causes, you’re making decisions about what is significant and what isn’t.

How do we translate this very left-brain activity into the right-brain world of fiction?

The answer again is two-fold.

The first comes in the process of creating the story. What information do you choose to include? What do you omit? Like the Observer, you’re coloring our view of what you show us, but now you’re being even more specific, pushing us in one direction or another as your characters interpret other’s actions and react accordingly.

One character asks another how the day is going. The response is a single word: “Fine.” But what was the tone of voice in that reply? You, dear author, play the Interpreter with the very next sentence. Does the speaker throw a glance of malevolence at the questioner? Give a pretty smile and a bat of the eyelashes? Shrug with nonchalance?

Of course, the pitfall here is the adverb. Be wary! “‘Fine,’ he said malevolently” is weak. “ ‘Fine.’ Jake’s malevolent glare made Scott step back in alarm.” goes a lot further, actually interpreting the spoken word for the reader by using the characters’ reactions.

“Scrutinize” and “probing” are two words that come up in my lazy-man’s thesaurus (the one attached to my word processing program) for “analyze.” Those words lead to the second way an author can be the Interpreter: You can write that academic, analytical essay about your own book.

Let’s face it, how many essays have you written on the Odyssey, The Scarlet Letter or Moby Dick? Try stepping aside from your own manuscript and looking at it from the point of view of a student who has to write that essay. When examining character motivation, plot arcs, foreshadowing, similes and metaphors – what would he/she say?

Of course, this begs a hard question to face: did you write anything worth analyzing?

Homework J

Take any story you’ve written (but not yet published) and write a literary analysis of it. Pay particular attention to plot structure, theme, point of view, setting and characterization. I’m not kidding. Go through the process and actually write the essay.

Once you’re done, play the Reporter. Setting emotion aside, what did you learn about your own writing in doing that exercise?

As always,
Play safe!



(edited to fix word missing in first sentence. sigh.)

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