I have always felt that a writer writes a book. A reader reads the book.
Together they make a story.
The words I read will be filtered through the unique and specific lenses of my own personality, experience, and values. The story I end up with will be slightly different from the one anyone else gets from the very same words.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s what makes storytelling powerful and meaningful on a personal level. It’s what gives a single author the ability to personally affect multiple individuals and have an intimate dialogue with each and every one of them.
This is why it is incredibly frustrating when a writer hits us over the head with things in a story–telling us not only what is happening, but demanding that we interpret the events in this specific way, and feel these specific emotions as a result.
This happens a lot when an author has a distinct ‘message’ they’re trying to communicate through their work and wants to be absolutely sure the reader doesn’t screw it up. These stories end up feeling condescending and preachy, and we are often unable to connect with them on a personal level because we have been left no room to involve ourselves in the story.
For a writer to lay down his words expecting them to be received exactly as he intended them, supreme and unimpeachable, regardless of the differences in his readers is hubris. For a reader to interpret those words and consider his interpretation to be the final word is ignorant.
Readers will always, always view what they read through their own lenses–just as we write in the same manner. Because the author isn’t 100% of the equation, you can’t be completely certain that every reader is going to take it in the exact same way, but there are generalities that you can take advantage of.
As writers, we can be aware of the expectations we are setting up for our readers on that general level, and gently guide them in the intended direction. We can take advantage of alpha and beta readers, asking them ‘Are you getting what I’m trying to say? Am I being too heavy handed? Am I being too vague?’ Most importantly, though, I think we need to leave room for the reader to personally involve themselves in our stories. Otherwise, they might understand what we’re trying to say, but it won’t really mean anything to them.