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What does it all mean?

What does it all mean?

When I write a story, (especially flash fiction like this one, that I wrote on the spur of the moment for the A to Z Challenge) I often wonder what it means—what I as the writer meant it to mean, and how does the reader take its meaning.

I’ve written stories which I thought were literary, were the subversion of a myth, and been congratulated on writing a fairy tale; I’ve written about a boy suffering abuse and have had folks root for the abuser; I’ve killed a character and then had the readers wonder what he would do next.

The problem, as I see it, can lie in two things:

I suck at writing: My craft could be undeveloped enough not to be able to support my muse—the story hovers inside me, a shiny hummingbird, comes out on the page a slimy, slow-moving slug.

Counter-argument: Some of the folks get exactly what I’m trying to say—how do they see the hummingbird instead of the slug?

Reading fiction on blogs demands too much attention: And some readers just can’t focus well enough to read the whole story. They comment on the few words they have read, move on.

Counter-argument: Doesn’t that show my weakness as a writer, because I wasn’t able to grab the reader, pin him or her down till my story was done?

This leaves a very confused writer. Do I suck at writing? Do I give up writing fiction on my blog?

Over the last weeks of writing a story a day, I have come to the following conclusion:

I will keep writing fiction on my blog, because it challenges me, and I enjoy it.

Yes, the writing process is never complete without the readers and their reactions– but there is something to be said for perseverance.

If my craft is lacking, practice would help. If blogs aren’t the best place for fiction, well, they’re still the best place to play around and experiment. Most of the stories I have written during the challenge are in genres I wouldn’t have written but for the prompts I was sent.

It is all good.

So has this happened to you?

As a reader, have you ever come across a meaning in a story which you discovered was different from anyone else? As a writer, have you had a reader give you back a meaning to your story that you never intended?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • I belong to several book clubs and I am always amazed at how differently everyone seems to view the story and its message. What a challenging task you have taken upon yourself. I am simply trying to write each day, not to write an entire story. I am inspired by your endeavors

  • Rebel Sowell says:

    You’re not alone when it comes to second-guessing your work. One day I feel on top of it all, the next I wonder if I’m just a mediocre writer. Never give up. We are all writers-in-training even if we’ve written our entire lives.
    Write on.

  • I often take meaning from stories that others don’t. I recall when walking out of the movie theater after seeing Splash with Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah. I said that I thought the mermaid was a fantasy the entire time, and he wound up drowning in the end. The people I was with hated me.

    Anyway, I write blog posts for two reasons..

    1)because I simply have to write, and I love it
    2) To share with interested parties the information I’m writing about

    Basically, I see my blogs as an online portfolio of ideas. A “oh.. speaking of that, I have a link to a blog post I want to email you.”

    Anything else is gravy.

    R is for Role Playing Games on Main Street Arts

  • moondustwriter says:

    First I read your entire article
    second I didn’t read any comments before coming to the comment box

    Blogging is a strange animal – when I started a group blog several yrs ago I researched creating a successful literary site .there wasn’t that much info-. Poetry and Fiction was newer to blogging
    However the way people view a blog has not altered. A reader wants to be in and out so they can move on and read 30 to 100 other blogs
    So what happens? people peruse a blog or they comment based on a comment
    my advice to other writers has been:: write out of a love for the craft

    ~ best to you

    ohh gotta go … on to the 100th read of the day

  • With your wonderful stories book from last year, it’s no surprise to me you keep doing what you do so well!

  • elroyjones says:

    I agree with marianallen. You can’t control the interpretation of your writing. Do it to please yourself, take what’s useful from comments and forget what isn’t. You know what feels right, trust that.

    • Damyanti says:

      I do write for myself, but I write for my reader too. Strangely, it is never readers, in plural, but one person, my imaginary reader. And I value her opinion the same as mine when I write.

      I think in all writing there needs to be a balance between writing for yourself, and writing for your reader. Imho, only in cases where the writer herself is breaking new frontiers and is trying to understand what she sees, is self-absorption useful or desirable.

      • elroyjones says:

        It’s not a matter of self-absorption. As a writer you are also a reader, you know what you like to read. If you what you have written is something you’d want to read, you can trust your ability.

        • Damyanti says:

          Agree. But that is because I’m as honest as possible with myself about my writing. I have seen folks write what they ‘think’ they would want to read, and keep writing it. No one else wants to read it cos it gives them a headache. These writers never improve their craft, because they never think it needs improvement.

          I guess once a writer has real, solid reason to be confident about their craft, what you say holds true.

  • marianallen says:

    Damyanti, I often have people tell me a story is sad when I thought it had a happy ending. That’s usually because somebody in the story dies, and most people consider that Always Bad.

    You have no control over what your readers bring to your writing. Don’t worry about it. Do the best you can, and consider it a success if the reader gets anything at all from what you’ve written. I love it when somebody takes away a totally different story than I intended, but it still makes sense the way they read it. That’s like magic! 🙂

    • Damyanti says:

      Yeah, I agree, Marian. With every word you’ve said.
      But when it comes to writing, I always believe in erring on the side of caution, so I would just have to start working harder on making my meaning clearer without sacrificing the story, or its tone.

  • I enjoy reading your flash pieces! And you are good – what you do, I could never do.
    And yes, I had someone see something I never intended in my first book. Really through me for a loop. But we don’t all look at the world the same way.

  • I congratulate you, Damyanti, for the courage to consider this line of investigation. Too few people are willing to do thoughtful exploration of this nature. Anything that may help me improve my writing is a gift to me. Where you (and I) have to be watchful is not to slip over the line of self- investigation into self-deprecation. May I suggest, rather than doubt yourself, change the emphasis to investigation. When I was teaching years ago, I used a pass-fail system for accreditation, because early on I realized my job wasn’t to grade people, it was to provide an educational environment that allowed them to learn 100% of the material, and they did. My job was to create that environment and evaluate what they didn’t yet know, so we could correct that. It was not to be a judge of human endeavor. So too, with our current project – writing. We need to evaluate our less developed areas so we can improve, not waste time on attempting to assign ourselves a grading. Keep going. With your attitude, I expect to find a writer of great standing some day.

    • Damyanti says:

      Christina, I think continuous improvement is the way forward for any writer. I’ve only been writing for 3 years now, so I have a very, very long way to go.

  • writtencommunications says:

    I am always pleased when readers or reviewers really get what I was trying to hint at. In my book, my main character has a disability that was not recognized, or even imagined, in the time the story is set (6th century). In the style I have chosen, I could not just write “this guy has high-functioning autism.” Yet, I have had a number of readers guess it.

    On the other hand, I have found readers who just did NOT get other points I was hinting at. Now, I don’t think that writers should hint. Your job as a writer is to tell a story. Still, if you labour over every point, you bore your audience. So it’s a delicate balance.

    You are absolutely right about one thing: practice will improve your craft.

    • Damyanti says:

      Yes, to me I tell a story–and how well I tell it depends quite a lot on my craft–and that could always use improvement, and hence, practice.

  • Damyanti,

    I’m always amazed when people find things in my writing that I didn’t put there on a conscious level. I think different things in our writing resonate with individual readers and I’m so aware that what one person finds captivating another will find mind-numbingly boring. As a rule, I don’t particularly like reading fiction on blogs. Yours is the exception to that. As you know I haven’t stopped by yet for a fill-up on your April postings, but I’m getting there.

    • Damyanti says:

      JL, yes, subjectivity does affect what people think of our work.

      You were very kind to me through AZ last year, and I’m flattered that I’m the only exception to your ‘no reading fiction on blogs’ rule 🙂

  • A J says:

    Hi Damyanti – I too think that I will continue churning out fiction on my blog. I’ll still try for 6 days/ week but realistically, maybe 3-4 days would be more feasible. So far, most of the comments to the little pieces that I write for the AtoZ challenge showed that the reader read what I wanted them to read. I haven’t had anyone come back to me to let me know that it had a different meaning to them.

    The most interesting observation I received though was that a friend read my stories and told me her favourites. And her favourites were the stories that actually happened to me (in the most part) which I tweaked slightly to fictionalise (is this a word?). That was something I didn’t expect but am now giving more thought to.

    • Damyanti says:

      AJ– yes what readers say about your work, does change your perspective on what you wrote, doesn’t it? In my case, I’ve stuck to my view in my AZ stories so far—none of the comments have seemed to raise a question I could not answer to myself. When I receive a detailed crit on a longer short story, I mull over it for much longer, and often make changes, though not always the ones suggested.

  • Stuart Nager says:

    Art is subjective. What moves one person bores another; what one loves another is ambivelant about. I may wonder what someone else sees that was not my intention as a writer, BUT…everyone brings their own referencing of personal likes, dislikes and history: that is what can create new meanings.

    I find when i do get altered “readings”, it makes me look at a piece in a new way; may not change my mind, but it opens perspectives. I may also shake my head at the more “out there” responses, but, as long as the other person justifies it for themself…it’s all good.

    • Damyanti says:

      Stu…I totally get and respect the subjectivity part. Just that my never-ending self-doubt makes me wonder if I did my job right 🙂

  • Hi Damyanti! You have really hit on something here. Two of my pieces that have received acclaim are about narrators who are horrible people (at least that’s how I intended them) and people have called the stories sweet, moving, powerful. However, my style is to be somewhat obscure, leading the reader to have to do some interpretation, so I try to recognise that this being the case, I can hardly complain if they interpret them differently than I intended. Am enjoying reading your blog!

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks for the visit! I’m wondering whether I should consider the ‘misunderstanding’ a failure on my part or chalk it down to subjective opinion. In the interests of growth as a writer, I’m going with the former. Exception: when a lot of readers ‘get it’ and a minority go off on a tangent, I do bow down to the subjectivity theory.