The other night as I was trying to fall asleep at 3 AM after a huge writing binge (of which I’m particularly proud), there was a commercial on TV for some old ‘60s records. Maybe they were ‘70s I don’t know. Oldies though.
They played a snippet of a song that I never really knew and certainly didn’t ever hear on the radio, I don’t guess. It’s just got a great little melody and it’s sung in a very sweet manner.
I just always thought it was a great little love song.
It stuck in my head, so the next day, I looked up the lyrics on the internet, to learn about the song.
I thought it was the girl singing to the guy, saying you and I are in this together, we are a team, the world doesn’t get us but we don’t need the world. And there’s one particular line that every time he makes eyes at her, she runs to him.
I thought, how sweet! What a lucky guy.
I could not have been more wrong.
She’s breaking up with him. She says we’re not right for each other.
When she said she runs when he makes eyes at her, she is saying she’s running away.
“You and I travel to the beat of a different drum,” does not mean you and I, together against the world. It means you are marching to one drummer and I am marching to a different drummer. We ain’t even on the same page.
And she breaks up with him.
Yet another song that I thought was a great love song turns out to be completely the opposite.
Either I have a totally dyslexic ears from my youth, or I am one of the worst interpreters of songs in the world.
But you know what? I like my version better!
I like happy songs.
I’m sticking with that.
Now, WHAT does any of that have to do with writing? Well, if a reader gets off track – as has happened with my stuff from time to time – it can cause them to completely misinterpret a scene. One crit said I should start every chapter with a reintroduction of the characters, anticipating the reader putting the book down and not coming back for a few days.
What? That’s insane.
How about writing a book a reader can’t put down? And if they do put it down, hope that they are smart enough to go back a few pages and refresh themselves with the freaking story.
There’s so much bad advice out there, it boggles my mind. Rereading introductions every chapter? If I read the book straight through, that would cause me to put it down – and never pick it up again.
Here’s the deal. Assume your reader is smart. Assume your critics mean well. But write a story that you’d want to read, and write it the way you’d want to read it.
For a songwriter, if you don’t write a great tune, the rest doesn’t much matter. Crappy lyrics? Linda Ronstadt isn’t singing it for you.
For a story writer, write a good story. One with a quick pace and interesting characters, told in a compelling manner. Otherwise, all the good grammar and stuff doesn’t matter.
And if some pinhead misinterprets it for twenty years or whatever, that’s on them. Because I’m a smart guy but I liked that song anyway, didn’t I? Even though I misunderstood it? Still do. It’s a classic.
I just like my version better.
Odds are that kind of screw up won’t happen with a book.
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