I remember being in a Design and Technology class at secondary school where I was asked to describe a garden fork to a fellow classmate, without actually telling them what it was. It seemed so simple – we all know what a garden fork looks like. But finding the words to make sense of it was very difficult.
‘A long cylindrical pole, with a short round piece of wood attached to the top horizontally. At the bottom is a piece of metal, out of which stick three more pieces of metal’. Or something similar to that.
My classmate had to draw exactly what he heard and the resulting picture was bizarre. Of course, the lesson was designed to demonstrate the importance of both accurate descriptions and using diagrams in design.
In writing we don’t use diagrams. The words therefore must be enough to portray a picture, to push an image into the mind of the reader. A good author must be able to describe the world they are creating. They must be articulate and have a gift for constructing imagery. They must be able to describe believable characters with personalities and emotions.
However, I believe the reader must have an equal, if not better, imagination. A reader has to take the words provided and re-create the same image the writer needs them to see, or one that works to bring the story to life in their own mind. They need to take description of a character and imagine them living and breathing complete with flaws, capable of the emotions that make them a real person.
In this way, a good read is a short diversion. An interesting time out or distraction.
But a great story is a collaboration between author and reader that combines the skill and mastery of one and the imagination of the other to create an entire world that they can see, live and exist in. A world that is so real that when the book is put down it takes a moment to re-orientate the mind to normal life.
Maybe in fact, in the same way that only a master writer can put the seeds in place to start with, only a master reader can truly bring a book to life.