Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's All in the Interpretation

If I gave you pretty enough words
Could you paint a picture of us that works?
An emphasis on function rather than design.
--Lip Gloss and Black, Atreyu
I took my medical boards on Monday.  I spent six hours in a cubicle staring at a computer screen, reading vignettes about patients and then choosing the right (I hope) answer.  
In the eyes of the American Board of Internal Medicine, nothing was open to interpretation.  It all boiled down to 180 multiple choice questions determining my worth as a physician. 
When all else failed, I picked “C”.
Some claim writing is just like that multiple choice test.  They say for all things literary, there's one--and only one--correct answer.  These writing pedagogues say there’s one way to do a plot arc.  One type of successful protagonist.  One acceptable villain.  One appropriate setting.  Every story has been told before, so just play it safe and escape the big red check mark.  Your worth as a writer depends on picking the right answer and following the right formula
But what happens when both “A” and “C” make sense?  

The formula may provide the story a backbone, but the author’s interpretation is what makes it run, jump, and fly.  It's the unique twist that makes an old plot into a new story.  
Formulas are for textbooks.  Writing is for those who approach life without all the right answers.   
Here are just a few questions that are open for interpretation:

1.  Your protagonist is stranded on a deserted island with two attractive colleagues, Vlad and Joe.  Upon learning that Vlad is a vampire, does she:
A.  Fall for Joe, who has a solid job, IRA, and is emotionally mature
B.  Fall for Vlad, who is dead, hogs the sunscreen, and has a thing for 17-year old girls
C.  Cut herself on a palm frond, causing Vlad to go chupacabra on her jugular
D.  Make a coconut neck guard using a tampon and a bobby pin 
E.  Call the elite Navy Seal team she secretly works for to pick them up in the invisible jet

2.  Your main character has just walked in on her husband and her best friend in flagrante delicto.  Does she:
A.  Throw a vase at her husband, pull off her wedding ring, and cry
B.  Say something disparaging about fake breasts, then set fire to the house
C.  Shift into a were-tiger, and eat them both
D.  Become a vigilante private investigator with a penchant for donuts
E.  Join in

3.  You are 168 pages into your epic fantasy novel.  Your villain has finally captured the protagonist at a moment of weakness.  Does he:
A.  Kill him
B.  Pontificate on the reasons he is evil, and then go get a latte, giving the protagonist time to escape
C.  Give the job of killing the protagonist to his two inept sidekicks because LOTR is coming on cable later
D.  Challenge him to a winner-take-all game of Boggle
E.  Remind the protagonist of his special secret warrior escape power that only works if he truly believes in magic and unicorns

4.  Your main character, a cynical detective with a chip on his shoulder, is driving to work.  He is:
A.  Drunk on tequila at 9 a.m.
B.  Thinking about a prostitute he used to know
C.  Contemplating his volatile relationship with his father while arching one brow and listening to Phil Collins
D.  Petting a three legged dog named Mutt found down at the docks
E.  About to stumble across a murder scene involving a dwarf and a former Dominatrix
Happy Wednesday!!  And if you're in the mood for an excellent example of the power of interpretation, check out what these guys did with a Guns N' Roses song.


  1. I'm sure you did great on the boards. Aren't you glad that's over?

  2. Hope you did well.

  3. I love your multiple choice. But I think you gave me some new ideas for Days of our Lives spoofs involving vampires and lattes.

  4. I'm not sure . . .
    so I'll say, "C, C, C, and C".

    [I have it on pretty good advice that when in doubt, go with "C". However, had I been given the option of "F: All Of The Above", that's what I would have selected every time. Being a smart shopper, I'd always take 5 for the price of 1.]

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  5. I've got my fingers crossed for your boards (even though I'm sure you don't need it).

    Great multiple choice quiz. I love your answers - especially the one about the villain pontificating. I loves me some evil monologues. =o)

  6. I prefer essay questions. :P

    Fingers crossed for your board results (though I highly doubt you had any trouble. C is always the right answer).

  7. Hope the boards go okay - and thanks for giving me some new ideas :-)

  8. I am sure getting the boards out of the way is a good feeling.

    And good answer by LG, I always did better on essay questions as well.

  9. I hope you did great on the boards. They say multiple choice is the way to go, but I'm way to open to the possibilities.

    1. E. There has to be at least one guy among the navy seal who's a better catch than the blood sucker and the dweeb.

    2. C. Kill but not eat. No sense getting indigestion over those losers.

    3. F. Reveal romantic interest for protagonist. Who cares if they're both male.

    4. D. Petting the dog. Mangy looking mutt with four legs.

    Have a great day! :)

  10. I bet you're on pins and needles (oh wait, is that a bad pun?) waiting for the results but I'm sure you did fantastic.

    I love you're multiple choice, both the analogy and the questions :)

    Have a great day!

  11. geez...pour more coffee

    I love your multiple choice...

  12. Good luck on your board exam! When in doubt on multiple choice, I tend to go with C as well. Sure you did great.

  13. keeping fingers and toes crossed. I was taught, way back when, that when you didn't know the answer C was the way to go. =)

  14. I feel a bit winded after reading those ...

  15. You had me at Chupacabra, dahling.

    Oy, these are too funny! Can you make an SAT test for writers?

  16. I'm sure you did an outstanding job on the boards! Great questions and the multiple choices were quite entertaining. Be sure to save this for your patients. Julie

  17. Ha! love the multiple choices! I bet you are relieved the boards are over (and I'm sure you did well!)

    That Welcome to the Jungle was amazing! The cellists (or are they playing bass, I don't know my instruments) even look like cute rocker boys!

  18. You don't strike me as a 'one-right-answer' kinda girl, Julie! Fingers crossed that you did great on the Boards, but I have no doubt.

    p.s. if you picked 'B' on question 2, you've gotta read Fay Weldon. What a hoot.
    p.p.s. those guys were amazing. beautiful. hope they got paid enough to replace those broken strings.

  19. Ahhh, you kill me. Uber hilarious multiple-choice questions. Now if only the medical board was as funny as your version, eh?

    Good luck! I'm sure you'll do well 'cause you are BRILLIANT!

  20. Hi Julie,
    I'm still hopping from last week's blog hop--hope your boards went well!

  21. Great questions and choices. Fingers crossed for you on the Medical Boards.

  22. Hey, I have three honours degrees and I picked C from time to time... by which I mean 'quite a lot'.

    Your new challenge -- writing the stories inspired by these multiple choice options. I'm in stitches just reading them!

  23. This is great! It is true though that the answer to number 1 has to be 2, especially after the book that will remain unnamed came out :)

  24. I commented before I listened to the video. Wow! My son actually plays the cello and he just kep commenting on how they thrashed their bows :)

  25. Thanks to everyone who posted a comment! I really appreciate all of you that come by so often and leave your two cents--it's awesome. With all this well wishing, I should ace my test. And if not, I think I have the ideas for a few new novels now!

  26. Oooo...I feel your pain on those boards, the nursing boards were the same way. And you didn't know how many questions you would get! It was programmed to stop asking when you either mathematically passed...or mathematically failed. Suddenly the program says "Thank you" and shuts off, and you experience a sudden panicked moment where you *must* rip open the monitor to check for the tally sheet to see what the hell happened! Ugh. Anyway, long time ago, and since I've been cleaning up poop for 8 years, I obviously passed :) (oh, and instead of 'C', I just wished for the option E: pull the plug. It never showed up...go figure.

    Your quiz had me snorttling all morning. And now I want to hear the story about the dwarf and the dominatrix!


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