Last week, I started re-reading Lord of the Rings for probably the fifth or sixth time. It has been about three years since I’ve read it, so I am definitely due for a read. That the series is my favorite work ever is reconfirmed every time I give it a read. Although I know what will happen, the writing draws me in every time. It feels like a sort of coming home, a tradition of familiarity in the comfort of immense talent–a perfect nostalgic sense to evoke during the holiday season!
This go-around, I actually read something new in the book–the author’s note in the forward. I claim to love Tolkien, but for some reason my anxious mind always wanted to get to the story and skipped over this part. Now, being an author myself, I found this segment fascinating to hear another author’s perspective. One quote really stood out to me. Tolkien was speaking about readers’ questions about whether or not the story was an allegory to the current events during the time of writing (WWII). Tolkien had this to say:
“I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” –J.R.R Tolkien
This quote really spoke to me as a former English major. I couldn’t begin to guess hour many hours of explication and class discussions we spent trying to figure out the “author’s true meaning” in everything from works of poetry to novels. Admittedly, historical evidence does show that some works are meant to be allegorical (Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen” comes directly to mind), however, I like Tolkien’s view to consider applicability. Part of the beauty in a work of literature lies in the unique impression it gives to each individual reader. If a Lord of the Rings fan wanted to apply the context of WWII to the trilogy, and that gave the work more meaning to them, they are free to do so (although Tolkien might argue some of their points on the matter!).
Literature is not only the author’s freedom to write what words he will, but also the reader’s freedom to interpret or apply the words in the way that makes sense to him. It should not be the author’s task to move every single reader to the exact same conclusion or interpretation as that would take the magic of the human mind out of the equation.
Many of my followers’ comments on the chapters of Capacitance I have posted thus far have concerned the richness of the description of the setting and characters. Certainly exposition has been both a strength and a weakness for me as a writer. I’ve had the tendency to lean on it too heavily, but it has also enriched my storytelling ability (as some of you have pointed out).
There is a fine line between too much and too little exposition. I personally lean towards too much, simply because I enjoy the details. I love picturing a character’s outfit in my mind and describing it on the page. Filling and furnishing the place where a character lives is really fun for me as I was (for a brief semester) an interior design student. It’s just too much fun to give Mara’s penthouse black obsidian rock countertops when I don’t know if this is even possible or practical in real life (I certainly don’t have the budget to find out!). This is the magic of storytelling—as a writer, I have the ability to create whatever I want and place it on the page.
However, as a storyteller I hold a lot of power, and with that power comes responsibility. I have an obligation to the reader to give up some of that creative magic and leave some spaces free of description to allow their minds to fill in the gaps. This is one allure that draws readers to books; reading allows them to exercise their imagination and creativity. The story never looks the same in each individual reader’s mind. Hearkening back to Tolkien, for example, my dad was an avid reader of Lord of the Rings when he was in high school and college. Of course, we went to see the movies (maybe three or four times!) when they came out. My dad commented how different the settings were in the movie as opposed to what he had seen in his mind. He specifically mentioned Rivendell; while Peter Jackson styled the Elvish haven in a classic, fantasy style, Dad had always visualized the dwellings and structures as a more modern architectural style. I have always found this very interesting, and it is a phenomenon made possible by the fact that Tolkien simply did not go into detailed description of the architectural style of Rivendell. Thus, my dad, Peter Jackson, and each reader (whose original vision wasn’t skewed by the movies like mine was) is able to have their own, unique view of the setting.
Capacitance may have too much exposition at times, but I believe it is necessary. It helps draw readers into the world and helps them get closer to the characters. I do not have the enormous burden of a heavy fantasy to build as Tolkien did. Instead, I am attempting in this first installment of the trilogy, to draw readers closer to the characters themselves, to build a connection with them that will carry through in the events to come. Inductance does not have as much exposition. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, the second installment of my trilogy is very action packed and quick paced. In Capacitance, I introduced readers to the characters and showed their potential; now, in Inductance, they are using that potential and events are happening rapidly. I wanted the plot to move fast, and exposition—by default—slows the plot down by forcing readers to take time to consider and visualize.
Tomorrow I will be posting more thoughts on Inductance. I have made a lot of progress this week, and I’m excited to share. Until then, have a wonderful Thursday!