1. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    Style Assuming too much (Subtlety question)

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by DeathandGrim, Feb 17, 2014.

    Subtlety has always been a favorite and strong suit of mine when writing. Leaving small hints toward a fact or conclusion that can be drawn by a savvy reader picking up on them in my opinion gives some re-read value. I just feel it feels forced when certain facts are just outright explained by narrative. I mean it's okay with large parts of the story but if its something that is smaller I don't like it to be just outright explained. I like little hints here and there and yes, I do want to know somewhere down the line if I'm right or wrong when my conclusion is drawn, but I don't want the story to just pause and say "this happens and this is why" it feels so unnatural.

    But my question is how much can you assume your audience will pick up on? Because a constant issue I get when I ask for feedback is that some things aren't explained and I have to go back and point out the deliberate clues. How visible should clues be?
     
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  2. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Trust your readers. But make sure all the clues are there. Neon signs saying "HERE BE CLUES" are obviously no good, and neither are quiet , unobtrusive signs. Simply put the clues there and walk away, so to speak. Nothing shows respect for your audience more than trusting them to work it out.
     
  3. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, nothing feels better in my reading then when something happens and I'm like: "Oh, the thing about the thing! I get it know! Damn, bitch!"
     
  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think you'll have to accept the fact that not everyone will get your clues, no matter how well put they may be, simply because people think differently and join the dots differently. What's obvious to one person is vague to another. I'd say just write with good instinct and trust your readers. Your story should still make sense and be satisfying even if ALL the hints were missed. For the most effective feedback on your hints, I'd say find a beta reader who really enjoys and "gets" your writing (easier said than done, I know) - because then you can trust that your target audience will probably spot the clues. And then there're different sorts of clues, right? There could be obvious clues but the connection isn't obvious, so the reader knows what they should be thinking about but still don't work it out till the reveal :)

    The only example I can think of right now is from the Disney movie Frozen. I didn't spot the hints before the reveal - the reveal made sense anyway. But when I watched it the third time, I realised the directors had dropped hints in a certain song. I also heard an outtake and I heard another hint in there. If you've seen the film, you'll probably know what twist I'm referring to and which song it is :)
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @DeathandGrim - This is a problem I'm currently addressing myself, in the umpteenth edit of my novel. I've had a few recent beta readers miss a few 'essential' clues. They expressed confusion at what evolved later.

    Let a few beta readers have a read at yours. If they miss essential clues, there isn't much point in going back and pointing the clues out to them. As a real author with real readers you won't be able to do this.

    Instead, go back to the dropped clue and perhaps strengthen it a bit. If it's an incident, make the incident slightly more memorable. Even an extra sentence that gives an additional visual memory to the passage can carry weight. You don't need to jump up and down, screaming 'clue cluuue cluuuuee!' Just make the clue something that the reader will be more likely to remember. They won't need to know it's a clue when they read it, but they will have it in their heads when payback time comes.

    In my novel, there is a scene early in the book when some people are up on a mountain ledge, watching a rider approaching them from below. They get a good look at certain aspects of this person, but they don't see his face. It turns out I didn't make this clear enough. I assumed, because the watchers are looking down at him from a degree of distance, and the bearded rider does not look up, that the reader would know that they don't see his face. However, many MANY chapters later, when the man and the ledge watchers encounter each other again under different circumstances—and the rider minus his beard this time—my latest beta reader expressed astonishment that they did not immediately recognise him.

    I muttered a bit, but realised they were right. I need a bit more in that earlier scene to make that aspect memorable. When I do that revision, I intend to include a sentence or two (from a watcher's POV character) indicating that (for various reasons) they are unable to see the rider's face. I'm hoping I can sharpen that bit of the scene enough so that it remains in the back of reader's minds, so when the two groups encounter each other again, the reader will understand why the watcher doesn't recognise the rider.

    Rather than feeling annoyed when beta readers miss clues, go back and sharpen the clues. You don't have to do this as you write the original draft, sacrificing all subtlety. Only do this with specific clues, once you get feedback on whether they've worked or not. Make sure to ask your beta reader to point out anything that happens in the story that 'doesn't make sense' to them. This will let you know where you need to apply your efforts.

    But, as @Mckk says, there will always be readers who miss clues, no matter how obvious they are. So try to balance reader reaction. If a couple of people struggle at a particular spot, you probably have a problem. If only one person struggles, use your judgement. They may have skipped reading at that point (another issue you should address, but it's a different one.) Or they may just be the kind of reader who doesn't retain information.

    I know my husband is one of those. He reads voraciously, with enthusiasm ...but after he's put a book down for a day he's already forgotten who the characters are, what happened in the story, etc. And this isn't just my book, it's anybody's book. He never catches mistakes unless they are grammatical or spelling-related.

    In a way he's an ideal reader, happy to go along with whatever the author does. In another way, he's incredibly annoying, because you can't ever discuss a book with him later ...he doesn't remember any of it. I blame it on his profession, which was journalism. Specifically, he was a news sub, responsible for reading, condensing and fitting other people's stories into their alloted places in the newspaper. Once he was finished with a story, he moved on to the next one and completely forgot the earlier one. I reckong you can't escape your training. o_O
     
  6. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I think @jannert hits on a really important point. By the time a work needs read, it needs to be read by a variety of people. I know of the section she refers to, and personally had no problem with it, but I think that was in part due to my wanting it to be the person in question so I picked up on the clues differently than a reader with different allegiance in mind.

    The only analogy jumping into my head right now is that laying clues is a bit like seasoning food. If you pre-season a plate it may be too salty for some but too little for others. The best you can hope for is to strike a happy medium and the only way you can know that you've managed it, is by letting a lot of people taste it.
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, @obsidian_cicatrix, I particularly like your second sentence here. By the time a work needs read, it needs to be read by a variety of people. It's the only way you'll know for sure what works and what doesn't.

    I'd say the more the merrier ...BUT, do save a few beta readers for second and third major edits. It's always good to get fresh eyes when you've made big changes. If the same people read your MS several times, they'll already 'know' what happens, so they won't necessarily see the story the way a fresh reader would.
     

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