"Keep scribbling! Something will happen." Frank McCourt

Friday, December 18, 2009

Perception and the Written Word



My daughter and I speak by way of telephone often. Our relationship, thus far, is as good as any mother's and daughter's. The other night, we were talking about her first teaching assignment for a university…to be taught in our rural area- which will be a great thing for our community.

During the conversation, she tells me that she will stay overnight with me when she teaches and then drive to work the next day from my house. Normally, when she tells me she is spending the night, I get all crazy with happiness and I don’t hide it. But during this conversation, I got quiet. Then I said something like, “I don’t like that you will be driving to work that far.” Then I said, (actually I think we both kind of said at the same time) that it would be better to drive to work the next day than home late at night. Then she told me, she wondered why I suddenly got quiet since I am always happy when she stays the night.

Perception.

From her viewpoint, she thought I had grown quiet because I had a problem with her staying the night. But, my thoughts were on her travelling.

Sometimes when I write, what I am trying to say may not actually be what the reader comprehends. A good example of this was a few years ago when my dad and I took a writing course together (so much fun). We were to write a short story and then we were to read them during class. Mine was a story of suspense with a surprise ending. I read it. They listened. It ended. Some laughed. What? Why did they laugh? It wasn’t a comedy. In fact it was a story with suspense and mystery.

The instructor told me, “I can see that you were surprised that some people laughed.” He said, “You gave us the clues, but we didn’t see it coming. It surprised us. It was nervous laughter.” They didn’t think it was funny at all. But I thought, they thought it was a comedy.

Perception.

Another good example is email. I communicate through email every day at my job helping people with their tech problems, talking to vendors and even word exchanges with bosses. Without inflection, how do they know what my email actually means? Is she upset with me? Is she being rude? It’s all in the words.

Commenting on blogs is another good example. I often wonder if my words are taken from a different viewpoint than I intended.

With comedy writing it's all about saying the right thing and about timing. Throw in a surprise or two and you have laughter.

I think mystery writing is about hiding the clues in plain sight so that when the ending comes your reader will be surprised, but not feel cheated out of the logic of getting to that point. I love it when a mystery writer fools me.

Words are tricky. There needs to be an order, a relationship between thought, usage, execution and timing. Put an idea out too soon and it doesn't work.

I have had a love affair with words for 101 years. Yes, I am a vampire... that doesn't like blood. I have written stories since I was 10 or 90-years old. My love for words is like my love for animals. I love them all. I was the only one I knew (or admitted anyway) in college and in graduate school that loved writing papers. I learned quickly to keep it to myself. I even get a kick out of technical writing. So you see, I have a problem.

Yes, that's me in 5th grade when my love for writing began. Don't you be laughing...vampires don't like to be laughed at.




Whether you are a reader or a writer or both, would you give me your thoughts on perception and the written word?



Perception photo: google images

18 comments:

  1. I totally agree with you. It's hard to tell what the person really meant when the words are in print and not spoken.

    I guess that's like the old story where an accident happens and the policeman ask five witnesses what happen and they all give me completely different accounts.

    As for a vampire, you do quite well (and that was written in a happy, agreeable, playful tone with nothing bad meant). :)

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  2. MC, I take it that way, as well, so you are safe. No vampire revenge here. And what's with those pin curls of mine? You are so right about 5 people can have 5 different stories.

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  3. I think it is hard sometimes with the written word. However, if your readers have gotten to know you over time, hopefully they will understand and not get offended or misjudge something you say.

    I always second guess what I write. I read and re-read to see if it sounds okay. But in the end, all you can do is do your best and write from your heart :-)

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  4. CM, I do that too, second guess what I write and read it over and over again. I think we just need to relax (ok me) and realize it is what it is.

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  5. Sometimes I take for granted that a reader may know what I'm talking about, as in a geographical place or something that is specific to an era, but then if I feel like I need to explain something I feel like perhaps I'm writing down to a reading and dealing with boring specifics. For example, if I'm witing about something in the seventies, are all of my references or dialogue slang understood by a younger reader or even an older reader.
    Lee

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  6. With longer pieces, I don't really worry about misunderstanding because there's enough writing there to flesh things out. But I so agree with email and blog comments. For some reason, our intent or attitude can be so easily misinterpreted. It's funny how with the more casual blogs/emails, we really have to be more aware of how we say things. Maybe too because it's more of a one-on-one communication?

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  7. You make great points! I try and be very cautious of my words when communicating through email and blogs.

    Writers have the inside track on a slue of words, but it takes a dose of sensitivity to communicate effectively.

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  8. GREAT topic. I think about this often...but I'm better on paper/on email/texting than I am in person. I don't pick up on social cues and so I'm frequently confused during conversations (like your daughter was during your phone call.) I know when something is wrong, but I don't know why it's wrong.

    With writing, I usually know exactly how to put something to put across a particular thought. In person, I think, I can be taken the wrong way. People who *know* me realize they have to be very plain-spoken around me. I must be missing a switch in my brain or something. :)

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  9. Words are both tricky and powerful. That's why writers are both feared and revered everywhere else in the world, and dismissed here.

    One of the great things I learned working in theatre is how much a live actor brings to the written word simply by the inflection and the posture and the gesture.

    It makes me more careful in my choice of words to convey something specific.

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  10. great post thank u for sharing i usually get confused about the words but writing is a magical world and i feel myself free when writing
    i wanna be a vampire girl having a great power in writing((:
    hugssssss

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  11. Yep, trying to communicate the exact sense of what you mean to say is difficult in writing because it lacks inflection, intonation, gesture, and facial expression. Some of these can be captured and compensated for in novels…but not always. A friend recently reviewed a document for me and suggested a word be italicized to highlight the speaker’s annoyance…trouble is, I wasn’t trying to show the speaker as annoyed. Writers, unlike other craftspeople, gotta use flawed tools. Just part of the deal.

    Best Regards, Galen.

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

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  12. These are very interesting thoughts about viewpoints... I always try to look at things from viewpoints rather than truth and being wrong.

    Differing viewpoints allows for more possibilities rather than trying to make one person wrong and make yourself right.

    I totally agree with what you are asking.

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  13. Tone is hard to convey in writing without using conversation. I refuse to use the little smileys placed where you should laugh.

    My writings have been misinterrupted too and have caused problems in the past. I very carefully reread, to make sure I am not coming off as a smart...alec.

    My first full length story was in the fourth grade. A tall tale about Billy Bullfrog and Patsy Perch.

    My least favorite thing is that comments do not have spell check!

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  14. Lee, It can be quite a trick to tell a story using slang that could confuse the reader, but is sometimes needed.

    Joanne, I agree we are able to work it out better when we write longer pieces.

    Tamika, "sensitivity to communicate" I like that.

    Elizabeth, Re: the switch that you are missing, I think sometimes I am missing the same thing. (I am still laughing at this one, and will defend myself from this point on with this idea.)

    Devon, It must be both exciting and disappointing at times to see your work in action. Since I don't know if you are allowed any control over the execution of your work, my thought would be that it could be a nightmare on one level and wonderful on another.

    Tugce, I wonder culturally if my words are translated the way that i want them to be.

    Galen, I love your example of a friend wanting to emphasize a word that you didn't intend to be that way. It is clear to me that our brains work differently.

    Tom, Welcome and thanks for coming by. I will try to forgive myself the next time someone "takes me wrong". We DO all have our own viewpoint.

    Gail, I still use smileys which is probably unnecessary but... I love your first story- how cute. Oh and me too on spell check. Galen (see above) actually has that feature on his website blog. I love it.

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  15. JW, I have gotten so I incorporate smileys too because I love to play with words. You can take one sentence so many ways. I will insert a smiley hoping the reader will see the humor and not think I am totally serious. Even when talking people often are misunderstood so writing adds another dimension, culture another, and poetry even another...The beauty of poetry is that it can be read by many and mean something different to each. I love words!

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  16. Looking great at 90!

    Your comments on my blog are always kind and affirming, I am thankful for you.

    Email is tricky, sometimes I think people can take something the wrong way while I also think that many people would put in email things they would never say to someones face.

    The Park Wife

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  17. PW, Thank you. I don't know what I've said, but am glad I said the right way. :)

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  18. What a beautiful little 5th grader you were!

    I think I fall down A LOT on communicating in writing what I really mean. I think that as writers we try to write from that fluid place inside of us.

    However as readers, we are looking for ourselves in the words and it becomes all about how the "words" fit with our mood or perceptions in that moment.

    Makes it all very "tricky" doesnt it?

    Indie

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