One of the first year university courses I took was Lit 101. I sat in an overcrowded, soft-seat theatre that had been converted into a student lecture hall, clipboard balanced on my knees, sweating in my winter coat, listening to my prof speak about selected topics in English literature. I remember almost nothing else about that course except that I was completely blown away by the fact that I had been given permission to interpret a story, in whatever way I liked. All through high school, I had laboured under the delusion that there was one right way to understand plot and theme. That my job was to try to figure out what the author was trying to say. Imagine my surprise when I found out that although anyone could debate the merits of one interpretation over the over, it was truly up to me to figure out what a story meant. Like a literary Rorschach, I could make whatever pictures I wanted to, and ultimately, no one could say I was wrong. It was liberating.
If you're a lover of YA, you will not have missed the release of Allegiant this month and the kerfuffle (that's a literary term) over the ending. I haven't read Allegiant yet, and so have no idea what the ending might be, but it sure seems to have gotten under the skin of some Divergent Trilogy fans. It also seems to have sparked debate about readers' expectations and the author's responsibility to meet them. As a reader, I can understand and relate to the intense disappointment that results from a beloved character dying, or a storyline that veers in an unexpected and unwanted direction. Who hasn't shaken their fist and yelled "No!" at the pages, or wanted to toss a book across the room when things go south (really, just me?)? But as a writer, the prospect of writing to please people scares the pants off of me. As soon as someone else's expectations are introduced, I'm blocked. That's not to say I don't try to please people when I write - of course I do. But trying to please everyone will result in a storyline that is as bland as the food they serve on airplanes. Instead, I write the stories I like to read and hope that others will, too. I think the answer, if there is one, is that both author and reader own the story and neither has any claim to the real estate on the other side. Don't like the ending? No problem. Review, rant, and rave. It's your right. And authors? Don't answer to us. Write your version of the story. Keep things spicy, and surprising, and yes, even disappointing.