Who owns your story?

Professor at workAt book club yesterday, we discussed many things. Books, obviously, but the conversation wandered on to reader expectations and I threw out the question about who owns the story in the book – the author, the reader, both or none of the above?

My stories start in my head, but they are the result of my imagination and experience, sliced up with memories of books read since childhood, with a large side-helping of films watched and radio plays listened to. Add in a sprinkling of people encountered, conversations had and places visited and you’re there.

Venus_CopperBut once anybody else discovers your story, in this case via a book, does part of it become theirs? When I read a Lindsey Davis’ Roman detective Falco story, I’m walking beside Falco, Helena and Petro. I know what they like, how they think, I feel their emotions, laugh at their jokes, mourn with their losses. And I mourn when the story finishes because a door on part of my life slams in my face. And, of course, only I have this perception and level of participation. No other reader. Oh, no, no. I definitely own part of Falco’s world.  So when Lindsey Davis concluded the series on book 20, I groaned. She’s probably heartily sick of writing these stories. But she’s thrown us a new series, featuring Falco’s daughter. We’ll see…

J K Rowling received a lot of flak when she admitted she may have got it wrong by matching Hermione with Ron in the Harry Potter story. She said it was a personal wish rather than a literary trope. Is the story a public possession, or is she ‘permitted’ as the creator to do what she likes with it?

Dead Ever AfterSouthern vampire mystery writer Charlaine Harris whose Sookie Stackhouse stories were turned into the HBO TrueBlood series  received death threats, suicide threats and even threats to cancel book orders following the  final novel. Her sin? She’d given her bestselling series a romantic conclusion that not everyone was happy with.

Readers and writers may not necessarily divide along predictable lines on this. What do you think?


Updated 2018:
Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIAINSURRECTIO and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, is available for download now. Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

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2 comments to Who owns your story?

  • I don’t know the answer, but it’s interesting how deeply involved people become in a story.

    I was fortunate to take a summer acting class some years ago with the great Fiona Shaw. I learned much from her, and I remember mostly how she taught that the play takes place not on the stage, but somewhere between the author, performers and viewer. Each actor will bring something different to the script. Each viewer will take away something different depending on their own experience.

    The same is true of fiction, I’m sure. The best writers leave spaces for our imaginations to fill, and each of us reads our own, personal version of the same book.

    • Alison

      Fiona Shaw has put it very neatly. I love listening to radio drama for that reason. I can visualise it in my terms and gain so much more. And ditto for fiction.