The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Theryn “Beaver” Fleming
Photo Credit: Duncan Hull
When I moved away to start university, more than anything I looked forward to a fresh start, a chance to shed the role I’d been pigeonholed into, and redefine my image into something closer to my true self. That didn’t happen. While I was no longer saddled with my high school “character,” I was quickly slotted into a new role, different than the old one, but just as flawed. It took a while, but eventually I understood why.
Other people only know you from the outside; they don’t know what you’re thinking or feeling unless you tell them. Many people in your life only know a small slice of you, because they only ever see you in one context, like school or work. So while you see yourself as a round character, complex and complicated, with many facets, to them you’re a flat character, one-dimensional, a trope.
Even the people closest to you, the ones who know you the best, don’t know everything about you, because everyone, even the most forthright of us, holds things back. Your close family and friends may think they know everything about you, but they really only know what they see and what you choose to share. Only you know the true you, the one on the inside. Of course, the reverse is also true. We all have secrets.
One of the most common issues I run across when reading submissions is writers who have left too much out. It’s clear that there is a story, but the bulk of it is still in the writer’s head, not on the page. I often remind writers that readers can’t read your mind. You have to include enough information so they can fill in the gaps and make sense of the story. Otherwise, readers are left guessing—and likely drawing wrong conclusions.
The same applies to our own personal stories. People draw conclusions based on what they know—but often they know very little. And these days, there are more opportunities than ever for people to think they know you well when they really don’t.
I recently observed a situation on social media where friends and family members were speaking on behalf of people who were temporarily unable to speak for themselves. It’s one thing to want to be supportive; it’s another to assume you know what your loved one wants/doesn’t want, likes/dislikes, feels, thinks, etc. Yet, this is what was happening. I get secondhand-embarrassed when I hear someone sing badly. This was a hundred times worse.
But it got me thinking. We’re often advised to take charge of our online identities, to build our personal brand or writer platform, but these profiles typically focus on external attributes: highlighting accomplishments, choosing flattering photos, charming followers with witty one-liners, etc. We scatter breadcrumbs. The picture others put together from them is inevitably incomplete.
In wanting to make a good impression and not wanting to be vulnerable, we often leave unsaid the most important things, our innermost thoughts and feelings. But as writers we’re fortunate. We’re not limited to bite-size updates. We have all the space, and all the words, in the world to speak our truths, to write about what really matters to us. We have the ability to put our words out there so they can speak for us if/when we can’t. We just have to be brave enough to do it.