As writers we are so close to our story that we know exactly what we want to say – the hard part is that sometimes we don’t communicate it. What’s in our mind doesn’t always translate clearly to paper.
WHAT WENT WRONG
When I get the ‘confusing story’ feedback, this is what I do:
1. If I have the chance to ask the person why the story confused them, then I do (This isn’t always possible with a publisher).
2. I try to take a step back from my story and work out which bits might be confusing.
3. I list the themes and issues in my story to help me work out if it’s confusing because there’s just too much happening.
4. I look at the sequence of the story – too many flash backs or changes in the ‘story time’ can make it confusing.
5. I look at my characters to see if the confusion is caused by some contradiction in them – perhaps there’s a character (or two) who hasn’t been developed enough.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
1. GO BACK TO YOUR PLOT
How you do this depends on the way you work, but I’m a writer who likes to know where I’m going before I start writing my story, so I have a diagram of my plot using butcher’s paper and ‘post it’ notes.
This is the first place I go to try and fix plot issues. Having the plot diagram makes it really easy for me to see if there are things happening out of sequence in the story. Maybe the ‘post it’ notes need to be re-ordered to change the sequence of events.
2. CHAPTER BY CHAPTER
Unfortunately, it’s not always as easy as that. If the plot arc doesn’t reveal the flaws, the next thing I would do is a 25 word summary for each chapter.
If I can’t say what a chapter is about in 25 words or less then the chances are that:
- The chapter might be too complex – too much happening
- The chapter is in the wrong place in the story
- The chapter doesn’t reveal the true voice or motives of my main character
- The chapter introduces/mentions too many characters
- The chapter doesn’t move the story along
- The chapter doesn’t clearly communicate what I want it to
- The chapter might not need to be there
If all else fails, pretend you are explaining the plot to someone who hasn’t read your story – it could be your cat, your dog or even your rabbit – it doesn’t have to be someone who will give you feedback. The whole point of this is to clarify things in your mind. You can do this verbally or in writing.
It could be just that your plot needs simplifying and I find that this is soon revealed when I attempt to tell ‘someone’ what happens in the story.
Other flaws I have found with my plot are:
- It doesn’t start at the right place – sometimes I find myself writing myself into the story and I need to start the story further on – after I’ve created the back story that I need as an author but the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know.
- Somewhere along the way my main character has lost their ‘voice’ so plot events and their reaction don’t quite fit together.
- The sequence of the story needs to be re-ordered so that the action builds up to a climax.
It can be disheartening to get the ‘too confusing’ feedback, but all it means is that you haven’t communicated your message clearly to the reader. It’s not fatal, and if you try some of the methods I’ve discussed you’ll find that the problem can be fixed.