Last night at the Inkhorn Society Meeting we critiqued our first piece of ‘flash fiction.’ It was about two pages long, and while I thought that it would take a very short amount of time to critique due to its length, it took as long as a fifteen page piece. We had great discussions about the characters, enjoyed the dreamlike quality of the piece, and questioned each other as to what was the underlying motivations of the characters. The part that I enjoyed most, though, was that there were so many unanswered questions, and so much hinted at which the reader had to speculate upon to find the answers.
I learned something from it. Sometimes I feel like I spell things out too clearly. I write short stories, but my stories tend to be quite long, so I have the space to go in and tie up each loose thread, explain in full what occurred, and ensure that every character’s motivations are explained through both words and gestures. This piece didn’t, and it was so successful. It got me thinking that maybe I need to trust my reader more.
We all do it when we’re writing. We try to hint at something, and then when it doesn’t work we rewrite and go too far the other way. We look for ways to ensure that every reader understands fully every point we’re trying to make. What’s wrong if people need to think about it after they’ve finished reading it? What’s wrong with people having theories about the piece, talking it over in coffee shops or blogging about it online? Nothing! It makes a buzz around your piece, and allows imaginations to run wild!
Here’s the point though. It’s not that I don’t trust my reader. It’s that I don’t trust myself. I need to let go of my control issues and just trust that when I hint at things that the reader will pick them up, that my story will be worth thinking about and speculating upon. I have to trust that it’s good enough that people will discuss the story. Will everyone get it? No! But that’s all right. I’m not writing it for one person, so when it’s done I’ll give it to a bunch of beta-readers, and if they all don’t get it, then I need to explain more, but only one or two don’t get it but everyone else does, then maybe I’m close enough to the line to keep the mystery of the piece without explaining the ending until there’s nothing left to talk about.
Trust your reader. Trust yourself.