Once a writer has finished the process of writing and editing and has finally sent her book out into the big, bad world, a strange thing happens. People read it. But the book you’ve written isn’t the same book as what is read.
No matter how hard a writer may strain to bring clarity and precision to her prose, it is always open to interpretation by its readers. It’s a fact of life that words mean different things to different people, and that what a writer might have meant as just a minor scene might take on a whole new meaning to the reader, and visa versa. This phenomenon is known in literary circles as ‘the death of the author’. The author hasn’t actually died, but she might as well be dead, because she can’t sit beside her readers and explain to them that they might be getting things wrong.
Now, this can work in an author’s favour. Her audience might find deeper meanings where none were intended. What were random choices while she was writing might appear to take on a rich significance.
However, this reinterpretation usually this leads to misunderstanding. In particular, this happens with characterization, though it can also happen with plot and setting. As an example, say I’ve written a female character who is assertive; someone else might see her as bossy and aggressive. Maybe she won’t listen to a bunch of fussy old men who tell her she can’t do something because she is a woman; another reader might see her as being stupid and stubborn when she ignores their advice. Conversely, a male character who shows empathy and isn’t afraid to reveal his feelings might be misread as weak and effeminate.
There is no way of overcoming this problem. This is why ten different critics will write ten different critiques of the same book, and you might think they all must have read different books. All you can do is write the way that makes you happy and proud of your work, and do your best. Once your baby leaves home, it has to stand on its own two feet, without your support. And try not to get frustrated when someone seems to have got it all wrong…