I always despised the reading comprehension assignments I was given in English class. I especially despised the high school versions, where they wanted me to analyze the story, try to figure out what different pieces of the story represent (or rather, what the teacher thinks they represent). In high school, this got to the point where a teacher once asked on a test (closed book) what one minor character said at the beginning of Chapter 18. In other words, the teacher made me memorize story details, and I’m pretty sure I will never need to use the knowledge of what that character said in Chapter 18 in the real world.
The point is that the teachers always tried to drill into me that all stories needed to be read solely for understanding – something I disagreed with greatly. I’ve always felt that stories were written to entertain people, even if the reader doesn’t fully understand all the details. Until I learned the great question (which I previously reflected about here), and ultimately developed the perspective I described in my poem Stories (readable here), I was very adamant about this point of view.
The great question did make me realize that the deeper meaning of stories can actually add to the enjoyment of the story. It made me realize that understanding and enjoyment can coexist. Prior to learning that, I never looked beneath the surface of the story, at least, not unless forced by a teacher.
Despite this, I still found what the teachers do to be the wrong approach. It’s okay to analyze and understand a story, but I don’t think people should try to memorize a story. If the story is good enough, and interesting to the reader, he will remember the story fine on his own, without needing to consciously try.
Now, anyway, these reflection posts are meant to be about my writing, not just reading. Don’t un-follow me yet, I’m getting to that part! If I do try to write a story with a deeper meaning to it, I try to make that meaning somewhat obvious. I won’t make it too obvious, because then it could get in the reader’s face, and the work might come off as being preachy, but I try to make it so that somebody doesn’t have to read too deep in order to find the point of the story.
I may add something a bit deeper, a bit more subtle, for the people who do like to extensively analyze stories, but I generally try to make the themes that are most important for enjoying the story somewhat obvious, so the reader can relax a bit while reading. A story is meant to be entertaining, for crying out loud, and most readers probably don’t find much entertainment value in rereading a single chapter repeatedly to try to memorize it, or figure out what it means on a deeper level. I know I certainly don’t.
While understanding a story might help people to enjoy it better, ultimately, it is better not to dig too deep, because over-thinking the story can be a major impediment to enjoying it. Most of the stories my teachers forced me to over-analyze I found myself disliking more and more.
The way I see it, the best way to understand a story is not to extensively analyze it, but rather, just read it, and worry only about understanding it just enough to enjoy it. Then, when I’ve finished, I can reflect on it, to try to understand it better. If I enjoy a story, I may read it a second time – the second time through, I may notice things I didn’t notice the first time, many due to the fact that I already know all the twists, and thus, it’s easier to see how the story leads up to them. Also, if I talk with other readers, I may get another perspective of the story.
As a writer, I find understanding other stories on a deeper level can help me to write better stories myself, but I can’t let that get in the way of reading the stories to enjoy them, or reading becomes just work. Though I do reflect on the story, I respect rule 188 – while it’s good to take a work of fiction seriously, it’s still a work of fiction, and it shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
By the way, at the beginning of Chapter 18, the guy said that the protagonist was not the man his father was. Anyway, until next week, White Rakogis signing off.