13 December, 2016

Summer or Autumn?

It appears I have created the literary equivalent of #thedress. Do you remember the dress I mean? The one which went viral after a group of friends realised some people saw it as black and blue and other saw it as white and gold. Well, in the first paragraph of my novel, I have written a sentence which has split my readers into two camps: those who think my book is meant to be set in summer and those who think it is meant to be set in autumn.

Here is the offending sentence:
"It was one of those autumn days that had lost its way and ended up in summer."

The confusion came to light when I saw I had a negative review on Amazon. "This one lost me on the first page when scene setting, the day is first described as autumn and a paragraph later as June." I was baffled. I had to re-read my opening paragraph to see what the reviewer could possibly have meant. I then posted the sentence on Facebook to ask people which season they thought I was referring to - assuming everybody would tell me that the reviewer was being silly and it was obvious which season I'd meant. 

For the record, my book is indeed set in June. When writing that sentence, I meant to convey that the it was an autumn-like day (cloudy, cool, threatening rain) that had showed up even though it was summer. I thought that was clear. In the sentence the day ends up in summer - that is its final resting place: summer. The first two people to comment on Facebook however, agreed with the reveiwer - they thought it was autumn! I was pretty gutted about this. It wasn't just any line in my book - it was a line in the very opening paragraph; the fourth sentence of the whole novel. Of all the things I have ever written in my life, the opening paragraph to the opening chapter of my debut novel is probably the thing I have sweated over and re-written the most. 

A lot of people got invovled in the debate on Facebook. In the end there was a big majority who agreed with me that the sentence meant that the scene was set in summer, but there were still at least five people who read it as being autumn.

Of course, I could have written a much clearer sentence. "It was an autumnal day, despite actually being early summer." Or, "It was a grey summer day." However, as a writer I don't want to write flowery, over-the-top sentences, but I also don't just want to state bland facts. There was one person who thought the sentence was good at least! 

I'm not entirely sure what I can learn from this incident. Maybe somebody needs to make a piece of ambiguity software we can run our work through. Safe to say, I'll be checking the opening paragraph of my next novel even more carefully. I think perhaps though, the whole episode can be summed up in four words: win some, lose some. Oh, and I still can't see that dress as black and blue, even though I know that's exactly what it is.

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