Reading Between the Words

Stealing lines off my characters for titles might be vanity but that’s also the next stage of reading like a writer. I thought it sounded a bit more fun than ‘the deeper meaning’ or some such. Feel free to disagree with me. Why do you disagree though?

‘Well, Jesse, it sounds like you’re trying to hard not to use clichés,’ might be one answer.

Obviously I could’ve said ‘reading between the lines’ but didn’t. Right there you’ve got your ‘I think’ and ‘because’ and you’ve thrown in some ‘context’ by referring to the ‘wider literary environment’. Really that just means you supported your argument with evidence that I didn’t use a common phrase. Give something a fancy name and you can make it sound much more complicated than it is.

Back on point, we’ve got the beginning of our argument but if we’re going to read like a writer we’ve got to add a few bells and whistles. ‘Reading between the words’ is a short phrase so let’s read between those words. Call it vanity, or the simple fact that the only person I can offend by poking holes in my work is me.

The character I stole it off was Charlotte in Letters she’s a character who’s always trying to work out the best angle, her motto in life could be ‘what gets me what I want’. In the story she’s got some letters from her lover Bran and is trying to work out what he’s saying between the lines, a bit like us. Except, from that description, you might think (and I’m not confirming or denying) ‘perhaps she used this phrase because for Charlotte the gap between lines is too broad, she’s more precise than that.’

Damn, you went deep there and analysed the deeper meaning of a character’s words based on an opinion of the character. Does it matter if it’s what I, as the writer, intended? No. Despite the deeper meaning often being attributed to the writer’s intention it has nothing to do with their intention, the deeper meaning is how it speaks to you, the reader. Everything you’ve read, your world view, and your tastes influence your reading so it won’t be the same as someone else’s and it doesn’t have to be. You are perfectly entitled to disagree with Professor John Smith who says, ‘Jesse Stuart is simply trying to make herself sound clever by rewording an old phrase’. Please do in that case, he sounds a bit rude.

Anyway, if you were to think this phrase was a good play on an old one you might say: ‘I find Stuart’s use of a rewording of a traditional phrase “reading between the lines” effective because it implies the character’s mind set without explicitly stating it.’

In one sentence you’ve encapsulated:

  • Opinion – ‘I find’ and ‘effective’.
  • Context – ‘traditional phrase “reading between the lines”’
  • Analysis – ‘it implies the character’s mindset without explicitly stating it.’

The fact that Professor Clever-Clogs thinks I’m rubbish is irrelevant at this point firstly because you’re entitled to disagree and secondly because you’ve given a reason why you disagree. I don’t mind people saying ‘I don’t like it because I don’t like it’ but when you’re reading as writer I’m afraid there’s got to be a why, even if it takes you a while to work out what the why is.

There’s another thing I should probably mention, even after years of analysing literature there are plenty of times when I’ve thought I like this or I don’t like this and it’s taken a few re-readings to decided why. However, as you become more experienced and comfortable making these analysis will become a reflex to the point that you might not even realise you’re doing it until someone asks you.

Now we’ve got the basics of approaching our analysis it’s time to look at what a scene can tell us…

P.S. This is not a breakdown of an academic essay style.

Article Archive 1

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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