There are few things sadder than recommending a well-loved book to a friend and discovering that they do not love it as well.
Even putting aside the friendship-ending fights (“If you do not love ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ as much as I do, you obviously don’t share my life values!”), it is an uncomfortable reminder of how much of the story is written not on the page, but in the life we bring to the reading.
I was made starkly aware of this when I did a public performance of a poem about dementia. The poem followed the slow, creeping disintegration of mind and personality over the course of the disease.
I was lucky enough that the audience was articulate, intelligent, and open to discussion.
After the reading, the portion of the audience that had dealt with the dementia of loved ones talked at length about how closely the poem rang true to their own experiences. The portion of the audience that hadn’t seen the effects of dementia were confused and grew increasingly uncomfortable as the others told them that yes, it actually was that fragmented and disorienting.
Who do you think would remember that poem and recommend it to others?
This is the writer’s burden.
The ability to find shared commonalities that readers can flesh out with their own experiences is one of the most important parts of making a story live.
Many of us sink into books to escape, but we need a rope or even a thin thread to connect us to some shared ground, some shared experience.
We grasp to these thin connections with both hands, filling in rich text and subtext that never makes it to the page.
A good writer paints a picture so vivid it comes to life in our heads.
A great writer opens a door to the pictures we already hold and invites us to connect them together.
I am always fascinated by what we bring to the table as readers and how that affects our enjoyment of writing.
To see my own ideas of shared commonality you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor. It is available here.