>And no, I don’t mean the one Sarah shoved in Cthulhu’s fundamental orifice – assuming Elder Gods actually have such mundane biology. Well, unless it went all the way up so his eyes light up. I guess then he’d really wave those tentacles.
What I’m really talking about is communication. When you strip it down to the barest of basics (no, not that kind, that’s reserved for private showings with a very exclusive audience of one – since my husband doesn’t run screaming from the sight) all writing is trying to communicate something. It might be a mood, an idea, some facts that someone thinks are interesting enough or important enough to write about, or it could be just about anything. For the likes of PTerry, it’s often a whole bunch of them all at once.
Me, I count myself lucky to get one or maybe two things across cleanly in a story.
On the fiction side of the fence, the main thing we’re communicating is a story. Something that shows interesting stuff happening and people you can empathize with trying to deal with it and often making it worse before they can get hold of it and have their happily ever after. Words, no matter how much we love them (and hold them and pet them and…) are just tools.
If you don’t use the tools right, or you don’t use the right tools, you don’t communicate at all, or what you communicate doesn’t bear any resemblance to what you thought was happening. Not that this doesn’t happen even with the best of us, especially when we let Mr Smug Bastard in the back of our subconscious take over and pour the words out, but then we have to go back and adjust, and tweak, and sometimes give Mr Smug Bastard a damn good smack because he’s led us up the garden path and committed plot diversion in the begonias.
The short version? If people don’t get it you did it wrong. Period. If most of the people who read it get it, you can mostly not worry about the ones who don’t. You can’t please everyone, and there are some people who’d complain no matter what.
I’m naturally a play-with-words type. I’m writing this with minimal revision, and my normal rather… ahem… colorful way of putting things is showing through. To get to the point where I could write good fiction, I had to strip that back to the bones and have nothing but the story. No description, no nothing. Then I had to learn what details I could put in. It wasn’t easy. Normally I don’t just mix my metaphors, I shove them in the blender and ramp the power up as high as it will go. We won’t go into what I do to poor, unsuspecting similes (no, Dave, NOT simians!)
In the situation Sarah wrote about yesterday, Robert wasn’t communicating with his classmates because he assumed they shared his knowledge base. They weren’t communicating with him, because they had no idea where he is, figuratively speaking. This is something I’m terrified of, because that blank look that means whatever I was saying flew past without touching a single brain cell also means I failed.
I failed to use my tools – words – to put my message in a form the people who had to understand it could use.
I’ve had the rather painful experience of having to learn to recognize that “um… you left me behind after three words” look and backtrack and rephrase. It doesn’t help that I make honking great intuitive leaps of logic that leave people who don’t think in weird sideways lurches scratching their heads – and I can’t explain how I got there. I just know it’s right, and it’s easy, really, because if it was difficult I couldn’t possibly do that. (Yes, you can all stop laughing now. I know now I’m crazy enough to go in the nuthouse and just controlled enough to stay out of the grasp of the nice men waiting to fit me for one of those lovely jackets with the super-long sleeves.)
So, if the audience – the readers, the players, the classmates – give you that blank look, you backtrack and try something different. Or you back off and go with the majority (especially if it involves grades) because sometimes the communication lines aren’t up to the job. You can’t make jokes about the cloaca of Elder Gods to someone who’s never heard of Cthulhu. They don’t have the tools to understand you and by the time you’ve explained about squid-headed beings whose mere presence drives men mad, the joke is gone.
The flip side of this, of course, is seeing the lightbulb go on behind the eyes when your readers/listeners/classmates catch on. Even without speculating on how the lightbulb got there, I can safely say it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the craft.
What are some of your lightbulb moments? When you saw it go on, or when your very own lightbulb lit up? My favorite has to be when – and this happens in damn near every story I write – I finally catch on to what Mr Smug Bastard in my subconscious is up to.