28 January 2009

Reader's Wiggle Room

Two days ago, Neil Gaiman won the Newberry for THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. I bought this middle grade book early on and read through it quickly. I love Gaiman's work and thought my 10 year old son would enjoy it, too. As soon as I can pry him away DIARY OF A WIMPY KID 3, he'll read it. And love it, no doubt. (I do love how I had to bribe him to read it with STAR WARS comics. Bwahahaha. He's succumbing to my evil plan of complete speculative fiction infiltration.)

I was excited as a fan of speculative fiction to see a fantasy win the award this year. The book starts grim, with a wet knife and a dead family, but ends on quite the note of hope. Its hero is a little boy who keeps his head through all sorts of weird adventures. I like to think it reflects the current times: measured thought and action + a little luck and help from people who love us = hope. It's well worth a read.

My favorite thing about Gaiman is the way he never, ever speaks down to the reader, whether they're 10 or 100. It's not that he never employs telling, but he leaves lots of room for a reader's personal interpretation. I try to think of my own work that way--less in terms of what I'm trying to say but more in terms of what will different readers take away? When different readers mention unintentional themes in my work, I know I've done my job as a writer.

And therein may lay the key to beating this subjective editing business. If I find something in your story that resonates with me personally, I'm likely to want to buy it. You have no idea, as a writer, what that may be. But if you leave me some wiggling room, you've got a lot better chance.


lesleylsmith said...

No doubt about it, Gaiman is one of the best writers working today. It's really interesting how he's brought creepiness to kids. In the past, kids would be protected from such stuff. Kids seem more sophisticated now. Is it because they are exposed to more creepy/subtle/real-world stuff now? Or some other reason?

As for Betsy's wiggle room... Gremlin Editor wants me to write something rude... but I'm resisting him.

ssas said...

I don't know. I read some really creepy stuff when I was a kid--people trying to kill animals, kids, parents... Even Mary going blind in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series was pretty strong stuff.

I actually don't think kids are all that more sophisticated than when we were young. I think a lot of us have forgotten how much we knew back then. By 4th grade I'd learned about sex, read about people dying. And the kids I know are about the level I was.

Hmm. Maybe it was ME who was more exposed...

But no doubt Gaiman is a great writer.

lesleylsmith said...

Wait, you're exposed? Gremlin wants to know what are you exposing?

Okay, kids today are more sophisticated than me! :) Gaiman's stuff still creeps me out and I'm a grownup supposedly.