Writing: Confuse ‘Em and Lose ‘Em


Your novel is a world you’ve created, and every detail resides in your head. Yet if you can’t translate those details to your readers, they’re likely to get confused.

Writing Tip for Today: Here are a few tips to keep confusion out of your writing:

Be Sensory

When your character acts in your novel, you likely envision a certain place, a certain attitude and certain other characters. Many writers see a mental movie as they craft their scenes, and that’s great. Yet you must also give your readers just enough information to let them follow your story. Which details are most important?

Instead of listing every detail in a scene, go for the things your character would likely notice. Take into consideration the mood and ambience of the circumstances. When you describe the setting, give your reader a few more prominent details but avoid lengthy descriptions. This way, readers can add in their own imaginations as they read.

I’ve written before that as the writer, you are also the manager of your scenes. By carefully choosing which sensory details to include, you steer your readers away from or toward certain feelings. By managing these details, you also command, the scene’s tension and your readers’ anticipation and surprise.

Time Comes First

When you begin a new scene, always provide the when first. Scenes in a novel flow in real time, so readers must understand what comes before or after. If not, confusion creeps in, potentially losing your readers.

If you write, “Laura couldn’t get the library door opened the next day,” readers must reread the sentence to put it into the proper chronology. Revise to write, “The next day, Laura couldn’t get the library door open.” By doing so, you’ve instantly oriented your reader to the time, the character and the place.

This orientation may seem trivial but a reader who must reverse and reread to stay in the novel’s timeline can quickly decide it’s too much trouble and stop reading. Those who write time-shift novels or stories that bounce back and forth in time should pay particular attention to posting the time/place/character at the very beginning of a scene.

You are your readers’ manager, steering them away from or toward different emotions.

Be Your Character

Another way to keep your readers going with the novel’s flow is to sink yourself more deeply into your viewpoint character. Instead of reporting what that character says and does, be that character. Infuse every line with your character’s beliefs and attitudes.

Imagine that you’re telling the story around a campfire. While you might not want to read aloud in your character’s actual voice, you do want that character’s essence to show through in every line. Some writers use opposite sex viewpoint characters but fail to embody the thinking patterns and other markers of the opposite sex. Dig deeper into the mannerisms and habits of the character to keep scenes authentic.

Confusion is a writer’s enemy. Readers can become confused from reading too many details or not enough soon enough. Keep your timeline and setting clearly marked to help manage your reader to a satisfying ending

What confuses you as a reader? How can a writer fix this problem?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

3 comments on “Writing: Confuse ‘Em and Lose ‘Em

  1. Skull lover: So I was sitting at a lecture when I feel like being stared at, and in the corner of my eye I see this really handsome guy, who’s literally just staring at me. I don’t think much of it and continue to listen to the professor. After the lecture the guy comes up to me, and lays his hand on head and I’m like “eeeehm, what are you doing” and he stares me dead in the eyes and says “I’ve never seen such a gorgeous skull” and then he turns around and leaves. Funny Short Storie. More stories here https://hideuri.com/ZrD2bE

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