Reading Into Things Too Literally?

ImageI love reading, and if a book grabs my attention I dive straight in. Since writing books myself I do tend to look at the structure of a book differently. I like to take something away from the outlay or plot, and jot down for future use on my own. It is very rare for me to think a writer could have written anything differently, especially in a fiction novel. It is after all, a work of fiction – not fact. So, anything a writer has jotted down is simply from their imagination.

Recently I have read reviews of several books by other authors and to be honest, I cringe. Some folk are downright cruel in their ‘critique’ of a book, and how the author must hurt. I accept that some readers are not going to like my work and will express their views. They are entitled to do so, and although it tweaks at my sensitive nerve, I accept their right to say their piece and would never challenge or comment. However, I have been tempted to explain something to a recent reviewer on a prominent book site. She commented on how I came about the name, Jack the Ripper, in my novel, Ripper, My Love. She states that Jack is linked with John and not James as I have used in the book, and that Jim is the nickname for James, (she emphasised the point in capital letters).

Definitely a different telling of Jack the Ripper but the names of the characters (how Jack the Ripper got his name) really bugs me. Jack is a nickname for John, whereas JIM is the nickname for James.

Now this is where my fingers itch against the reply button. Firstly, it is a work of fiction. As a writer I am entitled to call my characters what I want, and nickname them as I wish. I did not write a history book, and as Jack the Ripper is an invented name in reality, who is to say I am not right after all?

Secondly, I state in the book that, Jack, is an affectionate name given to the character by his parents, so it is his name.

Thirdly, my character’s name is a tribute to my father-in-law, James. He was born, James Smy and instantly nicknamed, Jack. All his life he was referred to as, Jack, not Jim. I also know another James whose father is James, and instead of James Junior, my friend is known as, Jack.

So, has the reader read into my novel a little too literally? It is a shame when a name has altered her perception of the whole book, when it is only a story derived from my twisted imagination. Being a coward, I will not hit the reply button and explain away my name Jack and how it came about, I fear it would lead to a discussion I do not have time for at the moment. Also, as a writer of fiction, I do not have to justify my creations. Or do I? Do you think differently?

About Glynis Peters Author

I write Historical saga style novels featuring mystery and romantic twists. HarperCollins/HarperImpulse publishers of my novel, The Secret Orphan. I live in the UK, in a coastal town in Essex. When I am not writing, I enjoy making greetings cards, Cross Stitch, fishing and the company of my little granddaughters. I also write Victorian novels under my own name, Glynis Smy,
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16 Responses to Reading Into Things Too Literally?

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Glynis – I think it’s so important for when one’s reading a work of fiction to remember that it is a work of fiction. Of course certain things ought to be accurate. If you have a scene that takes place, for instance, in London, you wouldn’t have a character walk by the Eiffel Tower because it’s not in London.That sort of accuracy helps a story to ring true. But as to names and that sort of thing? Yes I think there is such a thing as being too literal. And if your character’s parents nicknamed him Jack, then that’s his name. Full stop.

  2. Karen Walker says:

    I agree with Margot. Certain things need accuracy, but not names for goodness sake. Sometimes I want to tell reviewers to get a life. Sometimes I wonder if they’ve ever written a word themselves. What makes someone become a reviewer instead of a writer. Hmmm. guess I have some issues around this. Sorry.

  3. I can only agree with the above comment Glynis. I’m sorry you’ve had to read this. And good for you for holding off replying. I imagine that was incredibly difficult and probably still is!

  4. hilarymb says:

    Hi Glynis .. I had no idea Jack was anything but a different name to John and James – what was JFK? … I’ve no idea … but against that – I agree with your thoughts and everyone else who’s commented … what a frustration for you – glad you haven’t reacted though … Cheers Hilary …. Jack used to be a favourite name of mine as I grew up … still is I guess … !!!

  5. hilarymb says:

    I see JFK was John .. I did know … but known as Jack. Such is life – a name is a name!!! H

  6. denizb33 says:

    That is such silliness! C.S. Lewis’ nickname was Jack – and his first name is Clive. A nickname is just that – a moniker! It can be anything!

  7. That is getting pretty picky. But it’s still not worth replying to. That would only fan her into higher flames. Just put it down to HER.

    • Glynis Smy says:

      Yvonne, thanks. I do think it is petty picking. I would never reply, I am not that type of author. I did feel justified in sharing on my blog, though. It helped the steam out of my ears. LOL!

  8. A nickname, in the end, is just that, a nickname. And it’s the author’s right.

    It is best, however, not to respond to reviewers.

  9. Maggie Thom says:

    Do not ever think that it is cowardly not to engage someone who has been picky and critical. It’s her opinion and is it really worth trying to change it? She wouldn’t listen to you anyways. Some people just want to be seen and heard and personally, I wouldn’t give her that satisfaction. I am amused by how much she felt the need to stress her points. Not everyone is going to want to read your books but the same is true for her review, not everyone is going to agree with it or want to read it. Ironically she may actually bring you more readers. 🙂 It’s an interesting journey being an author isn’t it? Thank you for sharing.

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