When you read a book, ingesting the words on the page, what do you see in your mind’s eye? If I tell you my curtains are blue, do you see them? What are they made of? Are they worn out, or brand new? Is the sun shining through them, or just the street lights across the way? What colour blue is it?
Here’s my theory: the creation of that image you saw, that’s a little bit me, and a whole lot you. The best any writer can do is suggest details that the reader then assembles into a kind of imaginary reality. Sometimes we overdo the details and make you notice the illusion, and sometimes we under-do it and make it hard to follow… but the creation of a fictional reality is far more influenced by the reader’s experience than our own.
A good example of this: in Risk the Queen, Lennie talks to Mr Parker on a radio. The story is set in the 1920s, when the common term would’ve been “wireless,” so that’s what I used. But I got a bunch of emails wondering WTF I was talking about: wireless WHAT? Some assumed it was a WiFi router, apparently. Or a cordless phone. They were reading the story with a totally different picture in mind than I’d intended (so I changed it to something more accessible).
If readers are fundamentally responsible for the creation of reality, how far can we push that? And what will the results look like? I mean, there’s a huge spectrum of colours called “blue.” What if I don’t even try to articulate a specific one?
That’s a big part of what I want to investigate in The Anti-Anti-Anti-Christs: I provide the base elements of the story, like character archetypes, setting, motivation and plot. But the reader defines the characters that live in that story. Just like with the blue curtains, there’s a huge spectrum to be had. What does it look like, and how does it affect the story?
There are lots of angles to this concept, but the nature of “reality” is going to be… a fun thing to muck with.