The Writer’s Alphabet vol. 13; “M” is for Meaning

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What is the meaning of this?!?!?!?!?!?!? What means something to someone can have no meaning to someone else. Meaning is subjective, or is it? The definition of something is empirical and is also its meaning. Though what that means differs from person to person to animal to animal to person. A ball means something different to a dog than it does to a person but its dictionary definition doesn’t change. The same thing goes for objects in a story.

Let’s look at the example of a scrap of paper with a phone number on it, but no name. To one character it could just be a scrap of paper without a name. This character could think that the person who wrote down his phone number without his name could be the biggest idiot flying around on the planet. The character thinks: Why the bloody hell would someone write down their number and not put down their goddamn identifier? What possible reason could exist for this? What if I were to call this idiot and then what? Hey fuckface, you didn’t leave your name on this scrap of paper. So ya, that’s one way it could go. Though it might end up with these characters falling in love over some shared antagonism and then they get married and instead of confetti the guests throw scraps of paper with random phone numbers on them and the couple worry about eye paper cuts. Because eye paper cuts might mean something great to one person, but to this couple, eye paper cuts are the worst thing since the bad yelp review they got at the restaurant they started.

Another character might think: I’m really glad I gave that new restaurant a bad yelp review. The whole thing was lined with scraps of paper with random phone numbers and because I am the loneliest fuck in the world I decided to call some of them. Some of the numbers were out of order and some were long distance. The ones that did go through just ended in screaming matches with the person on the other end because people keep calling the number and pranking them. I’m not pranking you, I yelled at each of them, I’m really just looking for a friend. They would usually say, good luck and go fuck yourself while you’re at it, to which I would reply, I’ll take that advice with a hunk of salt you dickhead. Who cares this much about scraps of paper? Assholes! That’s who! The burger was good though.

And another character might think: This is it. I’ve found it. This is the place with the phone numbers. It only took a year and three plane rides, but I’m here. Before this character walks in the door he stares through the windows at the majesty of the one place he has wanted to visit since he read about it in a magazine a couple years ago. They had to fact check the phone numbers that line the walls because of a rash of complaints and a lawsuit, but the idea behind the whole thing was magic. He had arrived and now that he was here all he could do is stare. Who’s that cute girl eating the soup and sandwich?

And finally: This lawsuit was the best idea I ever had. Mr. & Mrs. Owners, I thank you for settling with me. Free food for life? I’ll take it! Mmmmmm, soup. On Sundays this character liked soup and a sandwich. I liked the concept but who doesn’t check if the numbers are real? She takes a bite of her sandwich and looks up out the window at the guy who has been standing there for almost ten minutes. Holy shit man! What the fuck are you staring at? Go away you freak, I’m trying to eat this free soup!

I think I went on a bit of a tangent there but meaning means different things to different people. The most important thing is that what means something to a character means something to them for a reason. An emotional connection has the biggest stakes, but as long as there is a distinct meaning then all will be well. If not, it won’t make sense and then, well, just erase the whole story and start again. Yes, even if you have 130,000 words. Chances are you’ll have to do some major editing so just start over. Just kidding! Edit it!!!

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About jtkwriting

Writer living in Toronto. "Sneak out of your window darling, let's live like outlaws honey." View all posts by jtkwriting

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