Showing Versus Telling

moby dickWhen college students sit around and put forward their interpretations, their way of looking at a text tells us more about them than the text; the text becomes a mirror, a blank slate onto which readers project their own state of mind. This is what keeps the best literature endlessly fascinating: twenty students can walk away from the seemingly straightforward text with twenty different conclusions. More interestingly, these same readers may have a different take on the same piece of literature one year later. In that year, they will have read many things, been exposed to new life experiences and changed as people. Even more so after five years. It can be an entirely different book for them after twenty years away from it. Imagine after fifty: Moby-Dick will have two different meanings if read at age twenty and then again at seventy. What this all shows is that books are as much about what readers bring to them; no matter how factual the text, there is no absolute reality — it is ultimately subjective. Great books, in order to remain exciting time and again, reflect an awareness of this and leave open this room for interpretation. One of the ways of doing this is avoiding the staid world of laying down facts ands, instead, embracing the more expressive, more artistic world of showing.

From The First Five Pages, Chapter 11.

Comments welcomed!

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About Bob McCarthy

Originally from the Northeast, I now call Southwest Florida home. I have been a professional copywriter and editor since 1979, both freelance and in house. I have had article published in regional, national and international magazines. Plus, a video for which I wrote the script won an industry award as Best Training Video.
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