Do We Ever Fully Know Our Worlds?

Recently I’ve seen articles floating around about J.K. Rowling saying that she supports a theory in Harry Potter that has Dumbledore representing Death. One, in particular caught my eye because of a quote at the end:

“The world [J.K. Rowling] created is as surprising to her at times as it is for all of us.” – Kevin O’Keeffe

Does any author ever really know the worlds they are writing completely? I feel like there are always hidden corners and endless possibilities in worlds – they are as vast as our imaginations will allow and there are always hidden corners and unexplored spaces. It’s impossible to know everything about the world we live in, why would fictional worlds be any different?

I’m also struck, constantly, by the reality that readers will always have their own interpretations. No matter how well an author knows their work, how thoroughly they think through metaphor, symbolism and meaning, readers are going to find their own meanings in the writing.  That is part of the power of a good story, it allows the reader to run with it – to imagine themselves not only in the world but also to want to dig deeper — keeping the story alive long after the last page has turned and to revisit those pages again and again for even more depth, more meaning.

These are things I love about writing.  What I put on the page, what I intend readers to understand, my not be what they end up understanding.  Sometimes they can find so much more in what I’ve written — I have loved instances when beta-readers had asked questions or made comments about their expectations of the story which aren’t what I originally intended, but fit so perfectly. Another set of eyes looking at the worlds I’m writing about with fresh perspective, able to see things that I may have overlooked.

The worlds of fiction are amazing living things that grow, shift, change and are always full of surprises.  It’s part of their power.

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12 thoughts on “Do We Ever Fully Know Our Worlds?”

  1. I think you’re right, and it often takes outside analysis to uncover the layers that we may have been adding subconsciously. One of the best reviews I saw of my horror-comedy novella was how well the three main characters interplayed and how much of a foil the fourth one was when they were introduced.

    I never intended it that way, even though I could see the fourth character improved the dynamic, but I think it’s nice when readers see things that we never considered as the writer.

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  2. I whole-heartedly agree. But, I’m also one of those dorks that re-re-re-reads a series I love because I’m feeling homesick. 😛

    It’s especially amazing, working directly with a co-author the things we come up with. Most of all when it’s four a.m. and we should be sleeping (didn’t do that last night at aaaallllll, oh no *shakes head*).

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  3. I completely agree with this! Everyone brings in their own interpretation, making the world endless possibilities. I’ve the same happen with my stories I’ve had people read. So surreal.

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    1. And fun! I still get a kick out of some of the notes one of my readers made about their speculations on what was going on behind the scenes or elsewhere in the world. Especially when those speculations triggered an idea in me that solved problems I was having.

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  4. This is so true – I’m always thrilled when a reader comes back to me with an idea about the story that I may not have considered. And I’m always finding out new things about the world I’ve created as well. And I will also revisit worlds I love in books I read over and over again – for me, it’s one of the great joys of reading.

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    1. I love that feeling of re-reading a book that you’ve read a dozen times and finding something new, or being able to understand something differently. That, to me, is the power of a good story!

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  5. Great post! This is what it’s all about, particularly for fantasy writers. We all want to create something bigger, something that inspires others to suspend their disbelief and live in our world.

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