This post is approximately 500 words long. That’s about a word for every friggin’ marble I’ve stepped on.
Benji and I recently played with our Marbleworks set from Discovery Toys. Think of it as a cascading bobsled track for marbles that you assemble in any configuration you desire. Place one in the funnel at the top and it follows your path all the way to the bottom. This wonderful experience develops creativity in kids (and reignites it in parents).
Our construction approaches vary. Sometimes, Benji just gives me pieces. Others, I try to work in something creative, like every level is the same color. The basic approach is the same: funnel(s) at the top, finish line(s) at the bottom, fun raceway in the middle.
And (he says, appreciating the segue he’s created), this is analogous to writing a story. The writer spends a certain amount of time invested in the construction of the tale, ensuring there’s a beginning, a compelling middle, and an end. You’ve created a journey that you know/hope/wish the readers will love.
So, back to Benji’s marble track. I’d spent ten or fifteen minutes assembling pieces and he’s dropping marbles in the funnel and giggling as they race to the bottom, following twists and turns, plinking off posts, and spinning down drains. Soon, it’s not enough, and he starts dropping marbles at any point he likes in the track. He’s moved the beginning on me! I’ve lost some control, though it’s alright because he’s still reaches the ending I’ve set up for him. Until he starts grabbing the marbles before they reach the finish! Because he doesn’t care a bit about my carefully crafted raceway, he’s changed the journey the marbles are taking. Not every aspect, mind you, but significantly enough that it’s different than I intended.
But that’s perfectly acceptable. The point of building the track (aside from the pleasure of being creative) is for him to have fun.
It’s the same with a story. You expend significant time carefully crafting something for your readers, and they interpret things differently and take a journey you’d didn’t foresee.
Again, that’s just fine. It can be better if the reader takes your story and makes it her or his own. Even if they interpret it far, far differently than you intend. Much like when Benji takes marbles and throws them down the hallway.
Crafting a specific journey that your audience will enjoy is very important, but the writer needs to be prepared for interpretations that vary from the original intent.
PS: Interested in other ways that playing with toys can change the way you think about writing? In a future posts, I’ll discuss the benefits derived from Legos, Tinker Toys, and other modular or creative toys. I’ve already done blocks! See? You’re helping your child and your book!
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© Michael Wallevand, May 2017