“We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us.”
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, c. 35-100
The more I work with clients and their screenplays, the more I feel this is one of the toughest things about writing. Not just screenwriting. Writing.
What you think it means may not be what it means. To the reader. What you think it means, doesn’t actually matter. What it means, that matters.
There’ a drawing in my fabulous book, done by me, of a writer on one side of a room, writing. And a reader on the other side of the room, reading. The thought is formed in the writer’s brain, goes down to the page, and then goes up to the reader’s brain. That’s the way it works.
IT DOES NOT SHOOT LIKE A BEAM OF LIGHT STRAIGHT FROM YOUR BRAIN TO THE READER’S BRAIN.
Wish it did.
Life would be a lot easier were that the case.
What you see, crystal clear, floating above your computer as you write, has to go through the scrambler onto the page, and then, through the de-scrambler to the reader, so he (or she!) can see it, crystal clear, floating above the page in living color. Imagine those words were radio waves. Imagine you were transmitting them from Ice Station Zebra on the Polar icecap via a hand-cranked radio to a ham radio operator in the Fiji islands… you’d be very very very careful about your choice of words because your meaning might get lost in the static.
Pretty good analogy for writing, actually. Tickled I thought of it.
What you think it means is not necessarily what it really means.
Tie does not go to the runner.
If the reader creates a different image in her mind from the one you had in mind when you wrote… guess what? It’s not her fault. It’s yours, because you wrote it in such a way that it could be misunderstood.
So don’t do that.
Be very clear.
Easy to say. Excruciatingly difficult to do.
But at least, now, you know it’s possible to be misunderstood so perhaps, now, you’ll take precautions against it happening to you.
I sure hope so.