Wednesday, May 2, 2012

16638--There's No Doubt if You Spell it Out

What can I say about crafting a new world that hasn't already been said?  Well, a lot.  It's a new world, so it's literal undiscovered country to everyone else. 

Now, what I've been wondering is how to introduce other people to the elements of an unfamiliar reality.  Do you walk new readers into the shallow end or throw them in the deep and let them sink or swim?  My opinion is that if you want to get your tale across and make it inviting, then you need to be a great host.  That means giving your new guests a little guided tour before cutting them loose on their own.  When you do that, some people are going to swim like champs.  Some may dog paddle.  Some may drown.  That's just the way of things.  

An example of experiencing the "figure it out for yourself" approach takes me all the way back to Sunday School.  There's this popular parable about the hidden talents.  Apparently, a master gave his three servants each a talent.  After a time, one was able to use his talent and show the master how he had turned it into ten.  The second servant had likewise been very diligent and had made his single talent into five.  The last servant, however, had hidden his talent and was proud to show how he'd kept it safe.  For his timidness, the final servant was chided for he had made nothing more of his single talent.  In some tellings he had buried it and in others it had been hidden under a bushel basket, which my young and uninformed mind equated with the expression of hiding one's light under a bushel.  Ah, so this was a metaphorical parable about hiding one's talents versus letting them shine and developing the gifts one had been given.

No.  If they'd told us at the time, we could've solidified in our minds way back then that the "talent" wasn't the one we were familiar with.  Instead, it was an ancient form of money with which we had no acquaintance.  The whole story was about saving versus investing and risk management.  Left to find out for ourselves, it took longer to learn what they were talking about and certainly puts a different spin on the lesson and the book.

In a similar bit of non-guidance, I read about how Saul of Tarses was stricken blind when he saw a divine vision of Jesus.  Sucked for him, but it turned him from being a persecutor of Christians to being an evangelist.  From then on, he walked about from city to city spreading the word and writing letters.  Wow, very impressive.  I tried to imagine what it must've been like for the poor guy (Paul, then) walking around blind to do his job.  It was years before I realized he'd gotten his sight back.  Oh, he got it back?  Well, it hadn't said and no one had told us.  We were just supposed to assume or somehow know this amongst all the other miracles and wonders that he'd only been stricken with temporary blindness?  I mean, I had figured, the Lord strikes you blind then you say struck.  If the writer wanted us to know differently, he should've said so.  Throw us a bone, huh? We were just kids.  Would that have been too much to ask?

Remember "Mission: Impossible"?  Of course you do.  You're reading this on the internet so you obviously don't live under a rock.  Anyway, the missions start the same way: blah blah blah should you choose to accept.  Then, "As always, if any of your team are captured or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions."  Pretty simple, sure.  I always pictured a secretary (y'know, like Moneypenny) taking a call and telling some foreign caller, "No, we don't know anything about him."

One day, the light bulb came on Bombeta de Llum.JPG and I realized they were talking about the Secretary of State.  Again, they never said, but knowing what was intended changes the way you view the story.  Not to ruin any surprises, but I don't think it was ever confirmed (said aloud) that the IMF's wandering adventurers/meddlers were agents of the CIA until the first Tom Cruise movie.  Those TV folks used to try to play it safe, so if they stepped on any toes, at least they retained plausible deniability.  There's a lesson from the intelligence community's unwritten handbook.

Now, if you want to play with that murky ambiguousness to perhaps surprise your readers later, go for it.  Enjoy.  On the other hand, if you don't want to risk your story being received in a manner wholly different from what you were planning, be clear and don't be afraid to do a little hand-holding until your readers are familiar with the new terrain and walking on their own.  Without that you take the even greater risk of disrupting the suspension of disbelief your reader was enjoying or fostering complete alienation. 

Who wants that?

Nobody, that's who.


  1. I definitely don't want that so I will apply the advice you've given. It's funny, I have read the parable about the hidden talents at least 10 times and every time I interpret it the way your young uninformed mind did - that the parable was about not hiding your talents and allowing them to shine in order to bring glory to God. I still think that...perhaps I need to read it again. :-) Very good post, I enjoyed reading it. Take care!

  2. I feel so...educational. I may tear up. Thanks :)