Friday, 23 September 2016

The Problems of Interpreting Fiction Differently

Maggie Stiefvater shared this article on her twitter a while ago and it got me thinking about our freedom to interpret fiction.

Why Interpreting Things Differently is Okay

When a work of art is put out in the world, a creator essentially loses all control of what happens to it. Consumers can pull both beauty and horror out of the same thing with niether interpretation being necessiarily wrong. For example, some people hate Celeana in Throne of Glass for being a snob whereas others idolise her for being a badass heroic female character. Niether view of the character is wrong because the reality is she's a bit of both. It just depends on our individual values what we chose to focus on.

Allowing ourselves to interpret things differently can lead to really interesting discussions about what we value as people and allows us to expand our minds to see things from the perspectives of others. But freedom of interpretation can also have some consequences.

Why Interpreting Things Differently can be a Problem

Sometimes fans go a step to far and argue with each other about what the 'true' interpretation is, assuming there is a correct one. We can look to Severus Snape as an example of a character people both see as a hero and a nasty piece of work. J.K. Rowling has expressed that she does not consider Snape to be a good person, nor should his actions be romanticised. But authors can't stop people from disagreeing with them.

There are instances where things go a step further - particularly with series that are unfinished (both books and TV/movie franchises). In the age of social media, people have the ability to question and criticise the choices made by writers on a highly visible platform, where writers can see every word.

Imagine creating something huge from just a simple idea, spending day after day crafting it and making tweaks until it's perfect in your eyes. Now imagine your work being pulled to shreds - simply because the people consuming your creation think that it should change in some way to satisfy their needs.

The prominent example given in this Vox article is with BBC's Sherlock, where fans demand that the two focal characters must form a romantic relationship, despite the writers expressing that it's just not going to happen.

And the writers have every right to do that. It's their creation, and while I won't claim Sherlock is the best example (I personally think the writers should quit making romantic implications between Holmes and Watson for humour's sake as it makes a bit of a mockery of the LGBT movement especially since it's just implications and nothing more), THEY CAN DO WHAT THEY WANT WITH THEIR CREATION.

No writer should have to change the essence of their work to go against their wishes simply because fans tell them they should. As much as we may want, art is not a fan service. If everything we wanted from a book/movie/show happened, there wouldn't be much of a story.

But backtrack for a second...

Does this mean we aren't allowed to have a different interpretation from the creators? Of course not! You can still see things how you wish. There are others who are bound to see things the same way - that's what fanfiction is for! But to demand someone to change their artwork because...

a) you think your view of the art is ultimately the correct one
b) it needs to be more diverse
c) you'll like it more that way straight up wrong, and contributes to the divide in the dynamic between content creators and their consumers. For creators to respect us and listen to our feedback, we first have to respect them and their creation. Criticism is allowed (I mean, I do write book reviews and not all of them are positve) but to ask an artist to change their idea rather than their technique is absurd.

Do you think we should be allowed to interpret things differently from writers? Do you think we have the right to demand change, or we content with our discontent as long as it's not harming anyone?


  1. I completely agree with you. I think writers need to stay true to their stories and characters and create them how they see fit, regardless of what the readers/viewers want. But I also think that readers/viewers are allowed to interpret things however we want. The author may have had one thing in mind when creating it, but if I interpret it in a different way, I still don't feel it's wrong. It's what I personally took from the work. We've all had different experiences in life, and, for that reason, we're all going to view things differently.

    1. I'm glad you agree. I love what you said about everyone having different life experiences and it impacting the way we interpret things because it's so true. Plus if everyone had the same view about everything there'd be no change or progress or anything to discuss. But as you said, writers still need to stay true to their stories.
      Thank you for visitng Kristen :)

  2. Great post, this! I think that when a character lends itself to different interpretations, in some way that makes it more real/round. In real life we all like and dislike different character traits and different people. We all see things in our own way, so if this is reflected in a novel/ if a novel allows us to do that, for me it makes the character feel more authentic. A round character is multi-facetted and difficult to pin down, and that is why it speaks to different people in different ways.

    I hope this makes sense and I'm not rambling too much :). I completely agree on the 'art is not a fan service' part. Thanks for expressing it so well!

    1. You're not rambling at all! I totally agree about different interpretations making a character more three dimensional. 2 people could have completely different opinions about the same person in real life and they can still be completely valid because they're focusing on different sides of the person, just like how we do with fictional characters. And I think a story can never be great unless the characters are genuinely complex and multi layered like real people are.
      I'm glad you enjoyed reading my post!

  3. Great post! I think we definitely should be allowed to interpret things differently to the writers - once the writer's have established that world for the readers, it's essentially the reader's choice what they want to do - the writer can't control how the readers interpret. However, in saying so, readers shouldn't hurl abuse at writers if what their vision for the fictional material isn't being met.
    Fanfiction is a great way for readers and just fans in general to showcase their opinion and their interpretation - although it may not be canon for everyone're bound to find someone else who sees things the same way as you through fanfiction! :)
    Wonderful post - really enjoyed reading it!
    Geraldine @ Corralling Books

    1. Thank you Geraldine! I'm so glad you enjoyed it :)
      It's definitely a tough thing for an author to accept that people aren't going to see their stories and their characters in the same way they envision them, but it's something that has to be accepted - because that's the very nature of creating art. I know there are some high profile authors who are very against fanfiction which frustrates me. More people need to accept it as a valid form of expression - something that allows fans to insert their own ideas into a pre-created world in order to express their opinion or at the very least providing some writing practice. Plus it's a great way to find like-minded fans!