This post by Craig Snider
Horror writer and editor, Michael Knost, said “As a horror writer, I do not give you nightmares–I merely give you the fodder to create your own. I am basically the lumberjack who delivers firewood, stacking it next to your house. It’s up to you to bring it inside and light it.”
How true this statement is, not only for horror writing, but for writing as a whole. As writers, it isn’t our job to hold the readers hand, telling them what this statement means, or what this image represents, or how the story should make them feel. It is the writer’s job to provide the material for the reader to reach their own conclusions. Think of it this way: the writer hands the reader a flashlight and a map, then points toward the path that will begin their journey.
So, how does one apply this to real-world writing? For one, learning how to “show” rather than “tell.” We’ve all heard this one, and each writer employs this technique in different ways, but the take-away from this piece of advice is to always try to provide the reader with the opportunity to judge for themselves what is happening in the scene, what is happening between the characters, or any other implications of your writing.
Another way to do this is by avoiding the urge to preach or lecture the reader. All too often, writers fall into this trap. They stand on their soapbox and begin casting judgement on the world for their own agendas. They may not even realize they are doing it. It is easy to do if you aren’t careful, and especially if your writing takes you into the realm of politics, religion, or philosophy. The writer’s job is not to tell the reader your opinion. In fact, you should do your best as an author to provide opposite and equally compelling arguments for all sides presented in your story. The more “gray” areas there are in your writing, the better. That means the writer will have to decide what they believe.
As writers, we have to learn to let go. We give our stories over to the reader, then it is entirely up to them what they make of the story. We can’t tell them what something means, they must decide for themselves. Many authors believe that the reader should or must understand the author’s true intentions or they’ve failed. Why does it matter what the author intends? Sure, to some extent, the story can be better understood if we see it from the author’s point of view, but in the end it is what the reader believes that matters. Because, no matter what the author intends, unless they are breaking the rules listed above, the reader is the end of the line, and the buck stops with them. So, stand aside, hand them your book, which will be their map, and let them take the journey for themselves.