IWSG 83: TO BE CLEAR


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This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month, to join the group or find out more click here.

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co-hosts

Erika Beebe | PJ Colando | Tonja Drecker | Sadira Stone | Cathrina Constantine

OPTIONAL IWSG DAY QUESTION:

Have any of your readers ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn’t expect? If so, did it surprise you?

When I took my first on-line writing course, which seems centuries ago, I learned something about writing I didn’t expect. Within our six lessons, we were limited to a paragraph. Sometimes a page.

I had to edit my thoughts right down to the bone and chose each word carefully. It proved that words came at a cost.

As a group, we’d give feedback on each submission. I was hit with questions like: Where and when am I? Who’s talking? Or the worst: I don’t see anything.

My word choices seemed so obvious to me weren’t communicating clear images to my readers. I sensed something weird was going on, and it had nothing to do with my limited word count.

Why were my readers experiencing things that weren’t on the page, and how could I fix it?

I tried adding concrete details and letting the work rest. But as hard as I tried, they still saw something else.

Truth

No matter how much work a writer puts into a scene it will appear in a reader’s mind as something slightly different. Proofing our craft is art and each of us adds a little of themselves as we read.

What about you: Any feedback surprise you in your early days of writing? Care to share.

58 responses to “IWSG 83: TO BE CLEAR

  1. L. Diane Wolfe

    It’s like painting a picture that ends up abstract and everyone sees something different.

  2. So true that readers don’t always see what we intend. I’ve come to learn that my critique partners comments about how they see my story are really helpful.

  3. Hi,
    I believe we all tend to forget that no one thinks alike. I also think that as writers, we must know why we write. To be honest, if I were to send everything I write to my readers before it is published, I would probably never have a published piece.
    Wishing you all the best.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  4. Brains are so different. I find many people are visual thinkers who “see” what’s happening. My brain doesn’t work that way but I “feel” it instead. It shocked me completely when a recent review commented positively on the description in my writing – I’m never sure there is any!

    • You hit the emotional mark with me and just so you know I also saw plenty of imagery in your work. And was very relieved when I discovered the pup was cozy at home.

      I’m such a wimp when it comes to dogs.

      • Thank you! And I’m a wimp too – all the animals will be taken care of!
        The imagery thing is really interesting for me – love how our brains are different!

  5. Writing workshops can be brutal! I remember one from a loooooong time ago during my undergrad years. We sat in a circle, and the instructor let the students vent and rant, their comments often totally disconnected from the text they were commenting on. It’s a wonder I ever got back to writing! But you’re absolutely correct: our readers won’t picture the scene just as we do, and we have to accept their feedback to improve our writing. I wish you happy writing in May!

  6. I once had a lady demand to know why my character was blonde. Then she wanted to know why the kitchen was blue. I’m still scratching my head over that one. That’s the hardest part, trying to figure what our readers are made of. I don’t have any advice or wisdom. I think it’s important to think about our readers when we’re writing a story, but we also have to be true to ourselves. Hard thing to do sometimes.

    • *snort*

      Interesting. Now I wonder did you mention that the kitchen was blue or was that all in the reader’s head?

      Cuz, that’s what I was getting at. Our readers fill in the blanks they want filled in and don’t always depend on us to do so. 🙂

  7. There’s the book we write, and then, there’s the book the reader holds in his mind– like Ernest Hemingway said: the two are hardly ever the same, I am looking forward to my Amazon Vella book which comes out chapter by chapter and to which readers buy that way, adding what they feel about what you’ve already written.

  8. Each reader brings her history to the reading of the book. Isn’t iy wonderful we aren’t all alike so we can get these different perspectives? My crit group saw things in my writing in I never noticed and some surprising takes on the stories that floored me! Loved that group.
    JQ Rose

  9. I think L. Diane Wolfe hit the nail right on the head with her comment.

  10. Hi, Anna–so true that a scene may appear vivid in our minds, but not so vivid to the reader. I guess sometimes that works in opposite ways (like J.Q. said above) when readers intuit aspects of our stories that we writers missed. In one of my earliest stories, a reader identified a plot device that echoed my theme/title that I hadn’t even realized!

  11. Your early experience taught you a lot. It took me a while to get used to the idea that people didn’t “see” what I meant, when, of course, it was so clear. I’m glad you wrote this today. It’s a great reminder for those of us who write to be read by others.

  12. It is interesting when someone sees a scene or character completely different than we intend when writing. But I think that’s what makes the richness of story so unique for each reader. And why so many good books are ruined when they’re made into movies.

  13. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    I’ve had readers see things that I never put into the story.

  14. Loni Townsend

    I think my critique group members dread it when I say, “this might be a Loni thing but…” When they try to go into specific details, I’ll often get confused and it’s usually just me who gets confused. Everyone else in the group either understands it or glossed over it, and I’ll be completely yanked out. Makes me wonder why my brain works so differently that the little things will trip me up.

    • This may just be an Anna thing but…
      😉
      I’d consider practicing what you want to say before attempting to address the group. Let them know that interruptions throw you off track. Make a note or two for reference if need be.

      When getting feedback, ask them to slow down, so you can try to write down the key points for consideration afterward. Leave room if you want to ask follow-up questions.

      If you know you work differently than the rest, announce it. Own it. Then it’s on them if they are not considerate to your needs.

  15. You’re absolutely right. I encounter this every time I get feedback from beta-readers. Everyone is friendly, everyone is trying to help, but more often than not, they see things in my stories that I haven’t put there, and don’t see what I was sure I specifically pointed out. It doesn’t even surprise me anymore.

  16. I think allowing the reader to imagine and participate in the story and created along with the writer is part the BIG immersive experience as a reader. I know feedback I get sometimes gives me ideas I would not have thought about on my own or considered that the reader might want to know. Of course, sometimes show me I need clarity because the reader did not understand what I was doing or the emotion/impression I was trying to create with the scene. Great post.

  17. I think it’s Stephen King who relates writing to telepathy. He talks about how we’re writing ideas and worlds right into someone else’s brain and causing them to see a vision, although what we see will never be exactly what the readers of our words see. I tend to agree with him. It’s amazing and humbling all at once.

    • All true. I think he suggested only putting in the important details like a rabbit with a blue six painted on its side… Although no two people would see the same rabbit, six or the color of blue. 😉

  18. Somewhere in my education to become an English teacher, I had a course about reading and how to teach people to read. I still remember a discussion from that class that described the process of reading as a collaboration between the writer and the reader, since part of the reader’s experience comes not from the words on the page, but from the emotions, experiences, and background the reader brings to the page. So, the same passage could mean very different things to different readers. Interesting stuff! @samanthabwriter from
    Balancing Act

  19. You know, there are times I feel exactly how you described. I wrote what I saw in my head, felt in my heart, and journeyed with my character, but somehow that didn’t translate to my reader. When this happens, I usually go back and break the scene down to every little thing that’s going on. Then I cut. At some point, I make my meaning and what I want to communicate clearer. Not an exact science, though.

  20. That must be so frustrating, Anna. I worked SO hard on my descriptions and SETTING the scene, so my readers SEE and FEEL what I am TRYING to convey. IT is HARD work and I am lucky most times, but every now and then, I get the, “I don’t understand what you’re saying in this passage… ugh!

  21. Tonja Drecker

    I think that’s the magic of reading. A story is never the same story to each reader, and often, not even to the same reader when they read it again.

  22. That’s such an interesting idea isn’t it. I’ve been constantly surprised over the years, how differently people interpret my stories. That’s why it pays to show it to lots of different people for critique.

  23. I always write down to the bone. That’s what I do. I write short fiction. So I count on readers seeing things that aren’t there, if that makes sense. It’s the beauty of the form. (And not everyone’s cup of tea.) 😉 I love your comment that proofing our craft is art. It really is. And, when you’ve got so few words to work with, every single one must be crafted.

    Cheers!

  24. That sounds like a really interesting writing task. I’m sure you learned a lot from it. And yeah, that is the hardest part of writing, where you feel like it would help to be able to mind read AND know the future.

  25. I finished my WIP several months ago, but then a beta reader told me she thought my MC was unsympathetic, mean, and a bully, which came as quite a shock to me since I had purposely tried to make her the nice, struggling young woman. Turns out that a few word choices can make all the difference to the reader.

  26. I never realized that readers wouldn’t get what I was trying to convey. Maybe it’s different with memoir than with fiction? I do know this effect has happened when I tell stories – my mind goes way faster than my tongue – but when writing, I hope that the edits help make sense out of the content and context. Still, I’m sure readers interpret my thoughts and voice differently… Great insight, Anna. And, I love those shadow pictures.

  27. Very true. Readers don’t see or understand everything as the writers does.

  28. This reminds me of a video essay I watched a while back called “The Artist is Absent.” It’s had a pretty strong influence on the way I think about storytelling. Basically, as writers, all we can do is suggest things for our readers to imagine. What our readers then imagine up, based on our suggestions, is sort of beyond our control.

  29. In my first publication, a series of short stories, I was surprised by the reaction readers had to the main characters and how much they disliked them but could sympathesise with their actions. I hadn’t intended for my characters to be dislikable, but it made them memorable!

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