Feedback Decoder Ring: Clarity

I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from all over the place. I do a lot of beta reading. I give a lot of critiques too. It had me thinking as I went over all of my feedback that I needed a decoder ring for understanding what I’m getting. I thought you might too.

Today’s subject is clarity. I think a lot of people have issues with clarity somewhere in their manuscript. It’s something I’ve seen often enough to choose this first. The elements are divided up by areas I have seen the most often, in my work and others. If something needs clarity there are some key words and questions that signal a need to flesh something out more.

Character

I wish there was more…

This character feels two-dimensional…

I don’t feel like this character would do this…

This aspect of this character doesn’t ring true….

 

Sometimes when people are asking questions, or making statements similar to these, it either isn’t working or the character isn’t clear enough for them to feel their distinctive personality. Thinking in terms of “how to make this more clear” as opposed to “man, I really suck”… has been a very helpful tool for me when it comes to this kind of feedback.

 

Character Interaction

Are these characters related or romantically involved?

I’m not getting a good sense of their relationship…

The protagonist and the antagonist aren’t believable when they interact…

I like the supporting characters more than the main character…

 

Character interactions can be tricky. Making things more clear for the reader, unless the writer intends not to, can really flesh out those problem areas. More times than not one or both of the characters in an interaction aren’t believable, or their relationship is confusing, because there’s a lack of development and details.

 

Action

The scene feels too rushed…

I got confused about who was doing what…

How did that weapon (or whatever) come out of nowhere…

I don’t have a good sense of the arena…

 

Although it’s true an action scene should feel fast paced, too fast is upsetting. Action is, from what I can tell, about being on a fine line. If it’s rushed perhaps build up the atmosphere more or the character responses. If the choreography is too confusing I recommend acting it out. If a weapon or tool comes out of nowhere consider how it got there and how you can add that information in. Setting is really helpful to add believability to the scene.

 

Death Scenes

I didn’t care about this character dying…

This character died too fast…

The other characters didn’t even react to this death..

There was no build up to this death…

 

If a character is going to die, value their life. They are leaving a whole world behind with enemies and friends. Death should have the gravity, on the page, that the decision took. The clarity the reader is looking for in this instance is to understand and feel why this happened. A lot of times a death falls flat when you don’t see it or their isn’t a build-up to the moment. Characters need to react. More than one. Why should we care if nobody in their world does?

 

Setting

I didn’t get a sense of the setting…

How far away are these locations?

What’s the world like?

I wish there were more setting description…

 

It’s always hard for me as writer to find that line between too many details and too little. Setting is like that. I love words. I would love to go on and on about some aspect of nature or build a complete picture of a room. No one wants to read all of that though. However, if people don’t see anything, the world is empty and people won’t want to read a story in an empty world.

 

Plot

I don’t understand this time jump…

How did the characters go from this to that?

The twist didn’t seem very believable…

The transition in this part was confusing or not believable…

 

Transitions and twists can be tricky. It needs to be the right amount to pull it off. Timing is everything. If you find yourself getting feedback along these lines, the transition needs to be smoother or it needs to be established that a lot of time has passed. Not making things like this clear can snap a reader out of the story. Or they may get frustrated and set the book down.

 

Some Key Words for Clarity:

confusing, awkward, lost, unbelievable, wish, didn’t get a sense of, didn’t care, rushed, where, out of nowhere, what’s going on, etc.

 

There are plenty of times when I’m writing that I think I’m making things clear. But translating your thoughts to the page isn’t always as easy as it initially seems.

Sometimes an awkward sentence or confusing conversations only need a few words for clarity. Other times, like above, we need to take a step back from the story and really think about how it’s evolving.

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