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Roberts, Writing About Literature: Looking beyond the characters

As classmate Jen noted in an entry on her blog, it is important to look beyond the characters and behind their words while reading a literary work.

As a fiction writer, I can certainly appreciate the value of dialogue and its power to communicate ideas and opinions. In fact, when I receive feedback on my stories, I often get a lot of positive comments about the quality of the dialogue.

Of course, dialogue, like many other things in fiction writing, has two sides. While it can strengthen your writing and convey ideas effectively, it can also be used too much or in the wrong way, forcefully drumming ideas into your readers' heads without giving them a chance to come to their own conclusions and interpret a characters' value-ridden words for themselves. It can also simply be used too much, making a story feel choppy or static.

Flannery O'Connor's dialogue, I have noted, is stuffed with meaning, and as you can tell from a quick glance through my recent entries, discovering or even adding to that meaning for myself has provided me with lots of questions to ponder (important for everyone, of course, but especially so for writers).

While doing some research for a literary paper, however, I discovered that O'Connor seemed a bit indignant towards a majority of readers, especially college students who interpreted her works during her lifetime. She was particularly bothered by the fact that they performed psychoanalytic critiques of her works, because she believed that their meaning could best be experienced from a theological point of view. She complained about the lack of a faith-driven audience for her works, and was severely opposed to the modernist secular movement.

I can understand her perspective, but at the same time, I don't think it made sense to complain about what kind of readers she was getting. At least she was getting readers.


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