Don’t worry Jim, if that question comes up, I’ll just confuse them. ~Dwight Eisenhower
To Press Secretary Jim Hagerty who pleaded with Eisenhower not to answer any press conference questions about the delicate Formosan Strait crisis, March 23, 1955. (Eisenhower was, indeed, asked if using atomic weapons on China was an option. He delivered a long, confusing reply which was effectively indecipherable.)
There is a great deal of danger in saying what you mean. If you do, and you do so in a clear and direct manner, you can’t claim that you were misunderstood when someone speaks ill of what you’ve said.
I usually don’t have this problem—clearly—but I know a great many authors who do and I’ve even found myself tempted at times to obscure my point or my opinions when it comes to crafting fiction. Why? Well, why do we do anything that we do as authors?
Literary fiction is famous for this, to the point where a good many well-known authors have looked back over their work and admitted when pressed that they hadn’t even known what they meant when they first wrote it—let alone presently. It reminds me of a paper I did when I was a freshman at Columbus State. I’m not fond of cheating, but I’m an expert at procrastination. So, 3am rolls around and I have a literary analysis due at my 7am class. Instead of plagiarizing (which is closely akin to robbing someone of their soul), I made up a book for my analysis. I made sure my writing as a student was just bad enough to make a solid “B” and my writing as “Jane Doe Author” was brilliant in comparison. Now, sure, long story short I got an A. What’s interesting, and what brings me back to my point, you should have heard the discussion that got stirred up. Would you believe it got heated? Students argued over the “meaning” of the passages I’d “selected” for my paper. I’d made the prose complex and controversial to the point of being impressively vague. It sounded good. It sounded like the voice of a true literary poet. In reality, it didn’t mean anything at all. I’d crafted the sentences to match the critique I’d written first (for a piece that didn’t exist, do you not see how sly this was…) Of course, had any of them been eager enough to do some searching they would have realized that the “small press somewhere overseas” that I listed in my sources, didn’t actually exist. Oops.
Yeah, spare me the guilt trip. I know it was wrong. I mention it because it’s a good example of what I’m talking about. If you don’t want to answer someone’s question, second guess them and answer a different question. If you don’t want to be crushed when the critics come rolling out to greet you, then don’t give it everything you’ve got—then you can claim that as an excuse. These are all safety nets. Why can’t we be as bold as the second grader who passes the note in class, “Do you like me, check yes or no”? The simple answer, is that as authors we go through so much rejection that we naturally run to these safe places. If we never pass the note, no one will ever have the chance to check the wrong box. But listen to me—if you never pass the note, no one will ever check the right box either. If you don’t give it your best, you’ll never know what could have been.
We aren’t exempt from this as genre writers. In fact, we’ve got a much higher bar to meet and because of that, we’re even more prone to overdo it. We complicate our prose and muddle our pacing, all in an effort to make it sound intelligent and deep. Yet, if anything, we need to be the most concise with our words, because the worlds we’re crafting are complex enough and stunning enough on their own. Think back on those stories you were told when you were young. What do you remember most about them? Was it the way they were told, or what they were about? I think you know the answer to that.
Don’t fear being seen. Fear not being seen at all…