Do I still need to put up an introduction here? Okay, maybe I can just say that I literally jumped up and down when MWT actually replied after I asked her if she’d be willing to participate in Queen’s Thief Week. What could be better than a post from the author herself? Please welcome the brilliantly amazing MEGAN WHALEN TURNER!
The Evolution of Not-Telling.
Or, how my policy of not answering questions about my books began as self-serving and over time became something even more self-serving.
When I first started to receive letters in the mail (this was before everyone had an e-mail address, I know, Dark Ages) the writers often asked questions I was reluctant to answer. I had a vague idea that readers should have room to make a book their own, and see what they wanted to see in it, and I was leery of giving too many details about my world when I knew some of those details might change. When a story is inside my head, a character can have fourteen brothers or none at all. When I write it down, I have to pick one version and then stick with it forever, so I try to put those decisions off as long as I possibly can. (Trying to settle on Irene’s hair color was painful.)
That’s how not-telling began. I explained that I’d left Gen’s age vague on purpose. Readers could pick any age for him that they liked, and maybe they would change their idea as the story went forward, but if they wanted, they could always ignore the details in the story that they didn’t like and Gen could be any age at all. I said that it felt like cheating, to me, to try to add an explanation to something I’ve already written. I got my chance to write what I wanted to write. If I didn’t do it well enough for my readers to understand what I was trying to say, it’s not fair for me to try to take a second shot. When it comes to talking about what I am writing next, I told people that I think it’s teasing to drop hints about a book… for five years at a time. If I wrote books a little faster, I might be a little more willing to talk about what’s in them ahead of time. But I don’t, so I won’t. (Although, I will try to write faster, I promise, I promise.)
And then, the most wonderful thing happened. The internet arrived. There were reviews to read on Amazon, and at Barnes and Noble and at Readerville and then at Goodreads. With a little help from Google I could find all fourteen people who had read my book and see what they were saying about it. Someone founded a LiveJournal community just to discuss the series and Rowena was the first
friendly neighborhood despot moderator. As I watched these clever, funny, thoughtful readers ask each other questions about the stories and sort out what they thought the answers might be… I thought to myself, “Boy, I am never telling these people anything.”
I would have liked to join the community right from the beginning, and I am always tempted when I am lurking to stick my oar in, but I still worry about authors getting in the way of readers. I never have joined. I comment from time to time, so Sounis will know I am around, reading, but I try not to be intrusive. I want people to think for themselves because I like thinking for myself. (I butted heads with an English teacher once when he tried to tell me that the ghost in a short story was just a hallucination. He had a lot of textual evidence. I didn’t care. It was still a ghost for me.) I would never want a discussion to stop because someone, somewhere, found what I said was the “right” answer.
And my reward for keeping my mouth shut?
Honestly, there is nothing so great as crafting a scene–going back and forth about whether a detail is too small or too obvious, worrying will anyone notice? Will they read it and go, duh? Should I just quit and take up knitting? And then watching as a reader lays out everything she thought about that scene and reveals that she thought everything I could have hoped she would. It’s the bomb. It really is. And I am never telling you guys anything.
Here’s Not-Telling the lion, MWT’s Mythopoeic Fantasy Award:
Thank you, MWT, for that lovely post! It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.” Fellow fans, care to squee and fangirl with me?