January 22, 2011

What's Your Interpretation?

Interpretation
-noun
  1. the act of interpreting; elucidation; explication: This writer's work demands interpretation.
  2. the rendering of a dramatic part, music, etc., so as to bring out the meaning, or to indicate one's particular conception of it.
  3. oral translation.

Like so many other English words, this word has many varied definitions. What I like about this particular word is that even the definitions require a bit of interpretation.

Elucidation – make clear, explain
Rendering – an act of interpretation (love when the definitions point back to each other)
Oral – spoken

Interpretation – to speak a clear explanation.

We know that isn’t an accurate summation of the meaning of the word interpretation. However, it is a valid demonstration of how our intended message in our writing doesn’t always get interpreted correctly.

When you seek input from critique partners and they give you something like, “what do you mean here: ‘to speak a clear explanation’?” and another partner says, “beautiful elucidation here” and the third says, “why does it have to be spoken aloud?”  You have to figure out if they are each getting the kernel of the idea. The interpretation.  All three of them are dancing around the meaning, so you’re probably at least close. Is it an important enough section of the work it needs further refining?

My daughter plays the clarinet.  One of her strengths is her interpretation of the music. She draws out the sections that have deep feeling and skips and bops through sections that are meant to be light and joyful.  A boy she used to compete against frequently had the technical skill.  He played the notes Exactly. As. They. Were. Written.  The funny thing was that there were judges who preferred his style to hers and vice versa.  So from competition to competition the top spot volleyed back and forth between the two of them depending on the judge’s own interpretation of the piece.

No matter how many times we change our word choices and futz with the punctuation, in the end our readers will have the final say in interpreting our work.  What we can do before it gets out there into the world, is make sure that the basic message and mood is delivered. We have to build into our work the tools the readers need to piece the puzzle together. Then, like raising independent children, we have to let go and hope we’ve done our job well.

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