Thoughts from Starbucks: On the purpose of Language, the Story, and My experience with a Beta-reader
Recently, I had a conversation with one of the employees at the local Starbucks in which I often visit (caffeine addiction, so...). In the conversation, I found that she is a writer as well. It was a brief encounter, but it was still enough to spark thoughts into my mind——thoughts primarily on the essence of the story itself.
Language has one function: Communication.
All language is designed to do this one thing.
I remember my Intro to Composition 2 class during my second semester of college. The professor began his class by writing the word “SIGN” in big, bold, letters on the board. At the age I was, I was not prepared for the simplicity in which this word would begin to imply, and it was not until much later that the lecture would “click.”
He said: “A word, is a sign.”
It is such a bare——such a plain definition of the concept, yet it is the greatest definition I have yet to encounter. It is because words are signs.
A word represents a concept: Abstract or concrete, moving or stationary, true or false.
This applies to the story, as well. A story, at its most basic——most cellular level——is a variety of words which, when placed in particular combination, convey an idea. This idea, in terms of stories, creates the illusion of the world, or a world. The writer of fiction, then, is alike the magician; the storyteller is an illusionist and a weaver of words. The job of the storyteller is to combine these words into the right order to make the reader (or listener) care about non-existent people, in a non-existent reality, doing non-existent things.
On my way home from the coffee shop, I considered this; I considered how these things could make me a better writer, then, I thought about my beta-reader. Having a beta-reader has been, for me, the ultimate example of the importance of using words to create the illusion mentioned above——and using words correctly. The thing is this: I never realized just how blind I was——just how little I knew about writing the story——just how blind I was because I knew the story in its entirety.
So, what do I mean?
I mean that I know what I mean. I know the story; I know what the story is supposed to say. My reader, on the other hand, does not. This, then, means that the reader only knows the story through the information I give her. There have been many times when my beta-reader has come back and said something like “So [CHARACTER] is really...” or “So [THIS] is [THAT]?”
Conversely, these times fill my pulse with anxiety as I think “Oh no! What have I done to make her think that?”
What the reader thinks about your story, whether true or false, is not their fault. They only understand what has been communicated to them; they only comprehend the ideas that the writer’s words have conveyed to them.
I have learned, through many semi-anxiety-attacks as a writer, just how crucial it is to watch my words. When I edit, I ask myself “Does that word mean ___?” and “What am I trying to convey? What am I trying to tell the reader?” Through my experiences with the beta-reader, I am learning to be a bit more discerning with my diction.
That said, I am glad that writing is, like all arts, an incremental process. I am merely learning and have far to go. That is my contemplation for the week, and I can say is this: Next time you edit, watch your words and say, “What idea am I trying to convey?” :)
However, there are things in this post that one might consider SPOILERS FOR KINGDOM HEARTS 3, but idk.
READ AT YOUR OWN RISK :)
So, I finished Kingdom Hearts 3 last night, and I thought I would talk a bit about it.
And by the Aeons, I am NOT okay!
So, I wanted to talk about a technical storytelling aspect in Kingdom Hearts that I personally find intriguing. This would be what that I also think to be one of the greatest staples of the series: The usage of mystery over actiony suspense. The story has a way of using cryptic language and imagery to propel itself and hook his audience. Think about it: The opening of the original Kingdom Hearts begins with Sora’s unclear dialogue, saying things like “I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately...Is any of this real, or not...?” Not to mention that the first place we see in actual gameplay is the enigmatic Station of Awakening.
Throughout the entire series, from the first battle with Darkside all the way to the final clash with Xehanort in the sky above Scala ad Caelum, the story has the essence of a mysterious dream.
So, why do I find this storytelling strategy to be so captivating? We have all had dreams; we have all seen the Oracle or Soothsayer spin their omens and fortunes. In the beginning lines to Aristotle’s work on Metaphysics: “All men, by nature, desire to have knowledge.”
It is bred into us——from the moment we are born, we have such a driving curiosity. Consider: The infant tests objects by putting them into its mouth; children wander around the back yard, taking in the sights around them; teens wish to know what love and purpose are in a world that has been made new to them; adults desire to see things they could not see with younger eyes.
And it is that—--it is that primordial attribute of the human nature that makes Kingdom Hearts an exciting story.
It is no different than the stories of Greek myth, in which the hero or heroine encounters a world in which they did not know before——a world new to them, or perhaps a world made bare, manifest, or even true.
The same is true for Sora’s journey.
In the beginning, we have Sora, who, through each installment, has his character and spirit tested with each new thing he discovers about the world. Through this, we see a world unfold before him, be it through the loyal companionship of Donald and Goofy, or Sora’s striking desire save his friends and protect the ones he loves, or even in his encounters with the members of Organization XIII.
It is the “Myth.” Even the final installment for this arc itself mirrors the heroes of ancient myth—--a hero who hears a call to adventure, then journeys forth to meet his greatest challenge yet. He is brought to the brink of death, and failure consumes him. But not for long, as he overcomes——and through that resilience, he is victorious.
The final installment of the Seekers of Darkness Arc has closed, and I personally felt that it had been done by tying as few knots as possible. But. That in itself is the beauty of the series: A story full of characters, plots, and settings that keep us guessing.
The ending was somewhat bittersweet——we see a more human Xehanort, and we see the story laid out in the metaphor of a game of chess between the duality of Darkness and Light. And, though I told myself that I would be done after Kingdom Hearts 3, I must say: