Perspective: Writers vs. Readers

As a writer, we all know it's our job to untangle words, re-invent them, and string them together to create a story. But the story started in our heads first, a lovely vision of painted scenes, heroic characters, and emotions. Much like an artist takes out his easel and paintbrush to capture the image before him, we take out our pen and paper (or our trusty Word doc) to transfer the story from our brains into paragraphs so that others may read of our brilliant inventions.

Most of the time we succeed, and it's a glorious feeling to have someone read our work and say, "Yes, I understand completely what is going on, or what you're saying here." Bravo! Pat yourself on the back. That is all very well, and if you find yourself having this kind of success in your writing career, you can stop reading here.

But for us struggling few, perceptions vary between ourselves and the audience we aim to please--our readers. The story is fresh and vibrant in our minds, so real we could almost touch it, taste it. However, when we deliver it to our readers--say, our crit pals, or crit groups--questions begin to rise: Why is Character Schmuck saying that to Character Schmick? What do you mean by this line? Where are we supposed to be? Whose crummy head are we in? What's for dinner?...oh wait, sorry, that last one was from my little boy. And we find ourselves EXPLAINING our story away.

I always say: when I have to explain something in my work, it means I didn't do my job as a writer. The writing should explain for itself. Always. If something isn't clear and is confusing my readers, then it means I need to look at that particular passage and consider rewriting.

Our vision may be grand and beautiful, but if we can't properly paint it for the masses then we're not utilizing our full potential...or at least the potential of the story. I know perception can vary from one reader to another, but the context of your novel should be coherent enough that it doesn't stop a reader cold in the middle of the plot.

As a writer, your job is to build that bridge between your pretty vision (the one dancing in your head) and the reader's eyes. Let it connect. Patch up plot holes. Give your characters backbone. Tighten your prose. And edit, edit, edit.

You don't want your readers to tread on this, do you?



Liz Fichera said...

Well said, Cherie. Another great reason why it's important to step away from your manuscript after you've finished it so that you can look at it again with fresh eyes and edit in earnest.

Jen said...

My little boy asked me the same question and I almost told him that had nothing to do with the scene, lol.

Truthfully, you hit the nail right on the head. I don't think it's the few that struggle it's the masses. I'm just grateful for a network of cheerleaders that push me onward!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Haha! That's one dilapedated bridge there. Great post! And BTW, don't Character Schmuck and Character Schmick have a brother named Schmoe? I could've sworn they did.

Krista M said...

Brilliant point! If we think of our favorite stories, they always tell the story and don't explain it. It's great! :)

cherie said...

Liz, you're absolutely right!

Jen, little boys are ALWAYS hungry. ;)

Anita, I knew I forgot someone. Sorry Schmoe. :D

Krista, look at you--pretty prof pic, lady! Thanks for stopping by, hun!

Suzanne Payne said...

You're right on the nose, Hollywood! I agree with Jen. I think that's a challenge for most writers. Scary bridge, by the way and thanks for being a cheerleader for me! Love ya girl!

T.S. Welti said...

I believe the same thing. One of the first questions I ask my beta readers is if it makes sense. One of the hard parts about writing fantasy is that your readers are often asked to construct an image of a completely alien world based on your writing. If you've got multiple subplots and perspectives on top of this alien world, your reader will likely get confused if you're not absolutely perfect in keeping your details straight.

Great post, Cherie. :)

ali said...

I totally agree. Especially where you said that if you have to explain yourself to your readers, then you must have missed your mark. Great post! I'm glad to meet you!

Angela V. Cook said...

This is why I took almost two months off before I started editing my WIP. It's amazing how the mistakes just jump out at you when unfamiliarize yourself from your work. I've had so many "was I drunk when I wrote this?" moments, it's not even funny!

Great post, Cherie!

Lori M. Lee said...

Great post, Cherie. I completely agree. The story should make total sense without the need for author's notes.

The only problem that I see happening is if one reader understands something when another doesn't. Do you edit or leave it as is? Probably get more opinions?

Or what if you're trying to foreshadow something and a discerning reader tells you it was SO obvious, while someone less discerning tells you they totally didn't pick up on it?

Some of it will come down to you making an executive decision on your own story and just crossing your fingers that most of the readers get it.

Jacquelyn said...

This is such a fine line to walk, especially with sci-fi/fantasy. You want to show and not tell, but you also want readers to understand... It sucks when your vision gets lost in translation.

Great post!

Rene Nightingale said...

Patching up the holes that others can see is very difficult. As a writer we are aware of every plot twist from beginning to the end. We tend to forget the story is new to the readers. Love the post girl! Thank you!

julie fedderson said...

If the world you're creating is successful, the reader is able to create it without the dreaded info dump of explanation. But it can be so difficult to know what will make one reader see your vision, and another miss it entirely.

Sarah said...

I completely agree--though I do look for consensus in this, as I think you don't need to explain every single thing to every reader. If one person says it, I consider what might be going on. If two people say it, I know I've missed my mark and need to recalibrate.

Tara Tyler said...

excellently put!
i kno i need more reader opinions...hard to crit my own work when i know what's going to happen and why =)

Lydia K said...

Yes, totally! Well said. :)

Jenny Phresh said...

Personally, I like to be a little bit confused...speaking of confusion. There is a reason why the show LOST was so popular. It left people scratching their heads and going on message boards to debate the whys and hows of the whole thing. It made people think. So, sometimes making everything clear as a bell and easy is boring. (BTW, the way the show wrapped up...well, not so satisfying. But I'm bound to start a whole debate.) I like to play devil's advocate because I am, after all, a Goat Girl. With hooves! xo

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. I agree, a writer needs to build a bridge between their vision and the reader. Many of my earlier works and drafts lacked that bridge.

cherie said...

Suzanne, love ya too, hottie!

TS, thanks! And you're right, this is even more true in sci-fi/fantasy.

Ali, it's nice to meet you and thanks for the follow!

Lori, good questions. I always go with the general consensus and then compare it side by side with my writerly gut. If more than one person has made a valid comment on a certain point, then it merits another look. If I feel like it is the way I want the story to go, then I go with that feeling, though I would certainly explore other angles to see if I'm looking at it the right way. Does that make sense?

Perception definitely varies with every person, so it's easy to come across conflicting opinions/feedback/suggestions. There's no right or wrong or definite answer here, at least I don't have one. Sometimes, what's obvious to us may not be obvious to others, and vice versa. That's why editing and getting critique is hard--we're bound to second-guess ourselves each time we get feedback. Keep the vision fresh in your head, and like what the others have mentioned, take a break and come back after you've let the ms simmer. (I do this a lot 'cause I'm neurotic.)

Angela, that's funny! I do the same thing with my wip. I look at it weeks later and think, Man, what was I thinking?

Jacquelyn, you're right. Show and tell comes into play here too, doesn't it?

Rene, hi girl! Good to see you here. You nailed it--writers know what's happening in the story and what's going to happen, but our readers don't, and it's easy to forget this indeed.

Sarah, yes. It's the writer's dilemma. It's the same reason why a book can get really positive reviews, and really crappy reviews at the same time. People's opinions are so subjective. We can only hope that the majority of those readers are on our side.

Tara, I know. I'm especially bad at critiquing my own work. I'm too close to it.

Lydia, hi! Thanks for stopping by!

Jenny, as long as that was what the author was aiming for, if to confuse their reader (in a good way, for the sake of the plot) is their vision/goal, then they've done it. There's nothing wrong with a story that may be confusing because it was designed to be so; what's confusing is when scenes don't add up to the whole, or characters act out of character, etc.

What I was really going for here is the idea of cohesiveness. That our scenes and what our characters do make sense as a whole.

Medeia, thanks for dropping by. Ack, I know my earlier drafts didn't even have bridges. ;D

Thank you for your great and insightful comments! I really appreciate the input. And sorry I couldn't get back to you all right away. Blame it on blogger being crazy (on my iPhone. I had to keep logging in to try to comment, then I kept losing my comments.) and my crazy day. Love yah all!

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