In marriage, we often hear spouses affectionately refer to each other as “my better half.” I love when that happens, because it’s a reminder that in marriage there’s not just one side to things. Sometimes, (maybe more often than spouses like to admit), their “better half” has better ideas or insights. It’s also an encouragement for husbands and wives to live up to the name, and be better for each other. In marriage, when “better halves” join together a better and stronger whole is created. The same is true for authors and readers.
In my first post, I talked about Paul Valéry’s idea that “[Writers] write half the poem, the reader writes the other half,” and why this is true of everything we create. Like a marriage, our readers can discover new insights for their lives by bringing a “better half” to the partnership, and we can inspire such higher thoughts by bringing them our best as well.
Last time, I promised to tell you about a time I found this “better half principle” to be true: It was while I was still a university student, working toward a bachelor’s degree in Education. One of my classes at the time was in Creative Writing, and we were expected to submit work every week for group discussion. On this particular occasion, my packet for the week included a quick draft of a poem comparing a relationship to the illness of sunstroke. I hadn’t given its creation much time or attention, so I was surprised by the reaction it received. Instead of reading it as an expression of relief after a bitter breakup, as I had originally “intended”, my classmates saw intimate love and devotion! When I looked at the poem again, I suddenly saw what they saw:
Bathed in cool shade,
I soak in our separation,
Spared from the blissful delirium
And ecstatic convulsions
Of overexposure.By W.R. Gilmour ©2020
The “other half” supplied by my readers changed even my own interpretation of the poem. Almost 25 years later, it still means to me only what my readers said it meant to them. Their interpretation has more merit than my own.
The Best Words in the Best Order
Poetry is my first love, so it’s often the first genre that comes to mind for me, but many of its principles of creation are applicable to other writing endeavors. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously claimed that poetry is, “the best words, in the best order,” but the same is true of everything we write. Writing involves an awareness of the language and images we use in the creative process. We don’t just throw random words on the page and “call it good.” We craft our poems and stories with care and make deliberate word choices in the hope of inspiring specific outcomes and emotions. We use quality characterization, develop intricate plots, and build on worthwhile themes. In future posts, we’ll get more specific about how to use these and other “nuts and bolts” of language and structure to craft content that is moving, entertaining, and even life-changing. But, for now, let’s stick with this foundational idea of building a “better half” for our readers.
Making Meaning Means Speaking Truth
In the “marriage” of making meaning by connecting with your readers, your stories must be at their best. Communicate the truths of your tales as clearly as you can. What your readers conjure up, and what they connect with and expand upon in your stories is their half of the partnership. Invite them to bring you their best by giving them yours.
I hope you will have many such partnerships as you continue in your literary journey. If you are true to yourself and your craft, you will entertain and uplift in whatever way your audience needs you to, as you join with them in this shared act of creation.
Shared Truth Leads to New Truth
When people examine the written word, they tend to find what they look for. Remember, we don’t just see things as they are, but as we are. Be the better half your readers may not even know they are looking for. Offer truth to your readers, and they will meet you halfway with the truths and ethics and “better halves” of who they are. This exchange occurs frequently in truth-speaking. Writing that speaks of God from one particular theological perspective, for example, can be enjoyed by readers from other religious perspectives, as they overlay the precepts of their theology on the writer’s words. The works of C.S. Lewis, for example, are enjoyed by members of many different denominations, despite the many theological differences those churches may have. The commonalities and fundamental truths experienced in Narnia, Perelandra, and other worlds have created incredible reading experiences for millions.
How do you plan to build upon the common moral and ethical truths you share with your readers?
In my next post, we’ll talk about teaching truth without pedantic preaching—why showing in such cases is usually so much better than simply telling.
Love my way of spinning webs of words and meaning? Follow me on IG @wrgilmourwriter or FB – W. R. Gilmour – Writer