I ran into an example of reader protocols again. dd_b lent me Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise, and very early on, we are told, "The head of a girl was cameo-sculpted on the sapphire in semi-profile, long hair drawn back, shoulders bare. Incredibly, the tiny face was alive." Now. Because of the cover of this book and my general impression from David of what kind of book it is, I do not read these sentences to mean, "This character had carved a living soul into an enchanted gemstone; if the rock starts talking, don't be surprised." O'Donnell can say, "the tiny face was alive" and count on his readers reading it as "the sculptor was talented enough to give it a semblance of life." But the other choice could be a perfectly reasonable sentence in another context--in a book like Lois McMaster Bujold's The Spirit Ring or pegkerr's Emerald House Rising, fantasy novels with jewelers in them, the reader would be justified in giving it the opposite reading. Without prior cues about which kind of book this is -- keep in mind that it's page 14 when these words get used -- we would have to remain open to either possibility until we had further data. But some readers read exclusively enough one way or the other that if the face is "alive," it's obvious which answer is "correct," and the other answer will be shocking and should be signalled more strongly. Which I don't think it necessarily should be in either case.
Same thing happened last week in Iain Lawrence's B for Buster: a fighter plane "disappeared from the sky." We are to take this to mean that it fell quickly enough that it was as if the plane had disappeared. In a different kind of book, planes can disappear. Both kinds of book can be good, but if you read one with the expectations of the other, you will be confused, frustrated, and disappointed.
Sometimes I find myself being overly careful of reading protocol possibilities when I'm writing. I try to edit out references to things disappearing unless they actually disappeared, because I don't want to send my readers down the wrong road in what actually is a speculative story.
I had one of my extremely girly reading moments while reading this book: I really wanted the main character's outfit. How embarrassing. But really, a clingy creamy sweater and a short, wine-red, fine-tweed skirt with two pleats and pocket flaps? I could wear that. Totally.
At least this time it's reasonable. When I read Pattern Recognition, I put it down desperately wanting a knife-pleated black miniskirt, and I don't think Mr. Gibson put one of those anywhere in the book. Very strange things, brains.