I love all my characters, but I will never understand some of them as well as my readers will, because I have not lived their lives. I am not, for example, a man. I’m not a mother, I’m not black, or English, or disabled, or a whole list of other things. I can empathise with all of those conditions, but they’re not something I know. My readers do, and I can only hope that I have written the things I don’t know accurately enough that they can…fill the gaps themselves, from their own experiences.Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Lois McMaster Bujold, who herself started out in Star Trek fandom, said something similar:
No two people, reading the same text, will create exactly the same reading experience in their heads, nor will the same person experience the same book identically at different times of their life. A book, the real book, the art as it takes place and makes its existence, requires two elements: the text on the page, and the mind that is processing or remembering that text. “The Book”, the thing I as a reader love or hate or remember for the rest of my life till the day I die, is the whole cascade of thought and emotion and experience that occurs as I run my eyes across the type. The mind without the text is un-moved, unawakened, blank; the text without the mind is dead, meaningless, senseless, no more than ink blotches on a bundle of paper. ("When Worlds Collide”).
I don’t want to clutter up the quotes too much because, honestly, I think they speak for themselves. So for now I’m just going to say that together they’re a pretty complete expression of one of the basic philosophies of fandom: the idea that we, the reader (or we, the audience, if we extend the framework beyond literature), bring something of ourselves to every story – and that not only does this improve our individual experience of the story, on some level it actually improves (or completes, as my informant said) the story itself. In fact, one might say that the story does not exist without a reader’s actions, emotions, and experiences to bring it to life.
At some later date I will talk about how well this perspective fits with the work of theorists like Barthes (originator of the ‘Death of the Author' concept) and Bakhtin (who believes that the meaning of texts is created through a process of dialogue between the author and the reader), and how they can be used to support such arguments in academic debates.