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Explanation Vs. Interpretation

[caption id="attachment_1166" align="aligncenter" width="343" caption="Would you rather the picture be explained to you or interpreted by you?"]Explain or Interpret?[/caption]

I’ve noticed two trends in the book world:

  1. There are authors who write books with a forward/afterward that tells the reader the reasoning behind the story, what the author intended, and why he wrote the story.

  2. There are other authors who offer no explanation at all for their stories.

This leads me to a conclusion with my own writings. Do I tell the reader why I wrote the story, even divulging what it means? Or do I keep the meaning hidden and allow the reader to interpret the story how they wish? If you’ve read any of my stories, you probably already know which route I chose.

I am a very big fan of interpretation. This is the case with books, movies, music, and more. While it is interesting to know what the artist intended, it’s more fun for me to figure it out on my own. Sometimes, my interpretation might be different from what the author meant, and other times, my interpretation might be even better, in my opinion, than what the artist meant!

I think it’s important for a writer, especially one of fiction, to decide how they want their writing perceived. So here are a few questions I think a writer should use to determine whether their stories should offer explanation or be left to interpretation:

  1. Do I want my readers to completely understand every aspect of my story?

  2. Do I want to raise questions the reader can answer when they reflect on what they read, or do I want the answers to be obvious?

  3. Do I want to state any moral lesson in my story clearly or through the actions of the character?

  4. Will my explaining the story insult the readers intelligence or admit that the story is hard to understand?

  5. Can I keep my mouth shut if I read a review or comment on my story that gives a meaning to it that I never intended?

These are just a few questions to use that might help you decide what would work best for you. I’m sure there are a lot more that could be asked.

If you have question suggestions for writers to determine if their works should be explained or interpreted, please leave them in the comments below and I will update this post with your question(s).

Thanks in advance for the suggestions!


  1. Fascinating! This is why I often didn't get good grades in lit classes; I was absolutely insistent that unless the author (often dead) were standing in front of me telling me what he/she meant in the story, then my interpretation was as valid as that of the professor's. Sadly, the professors did not always agree with me. A work of fiction should be totally open to reader interpretation. If the writer wants total control of how readers' understand their work, I think they should write non-fiction. And I mean that even more now that I am an aspiring fiction writer.

  2. I agree. What fun is art if you can't find your own meaning in it? What a person interprets from the art makes it more personal and meaningful for them.

  3. Interesting post. I have read comments by the author that destroyed the experience I had with the book and I thought they should have kept their mouths (or pens) closed. But there are other times when hearing what the author said gave me new perspective. Over all I like to be left to my own interpretation.


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