Where do you draw line between being clear in explaining the events that take place in your story and spelling things out SLOWLY AND IN BOLD TYPE TO BE ABSOLUTELY SURE YOU'RE BEING CLEAR? I said, SLOWLY AND IN BOLD TYPE TO BE SURE YOU'RE BEING CLEAR, in case you missed it the first time.

The latter always seems patronising to me. Readers have more intelligence than that, yet... sometimes I'll get feedback along the lines of 'what happened to Johnson's partner?'

I'll read that bit of the story back and it'll seem quite clear to me: 'Johnson raised his gun and took aim at his unsuspected partner's back. In the next room, Mary jumped on hearing the sound of a gunshot'.

Usually the reader will spot the implication if I point it out, but on a first read through it isn't clear to them. I'm trying to be subtle and they miss subtle. I've run across the same thing when making films. If I explain a plot point in dialogue, it's only 50/50 that a viewer will pick up on it. I'm sure that's why people complain about Hollywood movies being dumb and explaining their plot over and over again - you may notice that they've pointed out who the killer is half a dozen times, but the guy in the row behind you may only think they've hinted at it once.

I don't want to always have to write: 'Johnson raised his gun and took aim at his unsuspecting partner's back. He pulled the trigger and the bullet smashed through his fellow cop's torso a moment later. Johnson's partner - ex-partner - fell to the floor, the life gone from his eyes. Johnson crouched down beside him. He checked his pulse. Dead. He did the mirror test, just to be sure. Yep, no breath. Johnson's partner was dead. Johnson had shot him and now he was dead. As a dodo. Bloody hole in his back and Johnson was responsible. Johnson was a murderer. He'd killed his partner. Who was now dead. Johnson shot him again through the head, just in case. In the next room, Mary jumped on hearing the sound of a gunshot.'

But I also want my readers to enjoy the whole story, not my whole story minus all the bits that weren't quite clear enough or obvious enough. How do you judge where that line should be drawn?

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Why do I feel as though I'm up to my neck in goat shit?
John, see, this is my point. You assumed the gun is a literal gun and not pre-Socratic solipsism. I'm sure that if you had, everything would have made perfect sense.

Donna - I'm afraid I didn't write anything about shit, so if you're up to your neck it in, it's entirely your own doing.
Always include the word "motherfucker" in really important paragraphs.
This doesn't preclude using the word "motherfucker" in unimportant paragraphs too, I hope?
Wait, hang on... Surely this so-called "Jonhson" is a phallus analogy, and this whole scene is a post-pulp deconstruction of homoerotic violence in contemporary fiction?

(Which is to say: just as it's possible to go too far into clarity, it's also possible to go too far into "doubleclever" territory and leave your readers convinced that every innocuous line is heavily laden with a dozen extraneous implications.)

For the record, I thought that your original example - "Johnson raised his gun and took aim at his unsuspected partner's back. In the next room, Mary jumped on hearing the sound of a gunshot" - was just right: not too oblique, not too in-your-face.
"Wait, hang on... Surely this so-called "Jonhson" is a phallus analogy, and this whole scene is a post-pulp deconstruction of homoerotic violence in contemporary fiction?"

Brilliant. Abso-motherfuckinglutely brilliant.

(See, I covered Jude's requirment too.)
'Johnson raised his gun and took aim at his unsuspected partner's back. In the next room, Mary jumped on hearing the sound of a gunshot'.

Um, well, there's an implication there, but you could fit a marching band into the ambiguity between the two sentences. Johnson 'took aim' and Mary heard 'a gunshot'. You've written A and C, hoping the reader will assume B. But what if the gunshot Mary hears is from somewhere else? What if Johnson deliberately fires into the ground? What if the "unsuspected [sic] partner" is not fatally wounded?

I think the risk you run is that readers (especially mystery readers) may guess that you're deliberately leaving the details out to hide a clue or MacGuffin. Your beta reader may be asking about this because they expected the ambiguity to be resolved, or have some later significance.

One terse line at the end of the scene about stepping over the body would eliminate the ambiguity without HITTING PEOPLE OVER THE HEAD WITH IT.
In the actual story (which didn't involve a Johnson or a phallus analogy, but did involve a similar shooting), I had a number of people step over the body at the end of the scene, but it could have just come too long after the original implied shooting - long enough for the reader to question whether anybody really got shot, forget that a shot had been fired and then reach the body only to wonder who might have pulled the trigger.

I suppose the killer in cases like this is that it's not consistent. One person will miss one plot point, someone else will miss another. I've even had one case where a beta reader came back questioning an ending that was so far away from what I'd written I could only conclude that while he'd been looking at the words I'd written, his brain wasn't bothering to read them, intent on coming up with a story of its own instead.
Mary was listening to a Hollywood Edge sound effects CD at the time.
Vincent - I read your intitial discussion and the replies out loud to my husband just now. Rather, I TRIED to read your discussion and the replies out loud to my husband right now, but when you're laughing that hard, breathing, let alone speaking, is virtually impossible!

This gets my vote for April's best blog.
I may just have to add it to the poll in a week or so.
To answer this seriously, I think you need to find a good group of test readers. People who encompass a good range of reading experience and IQ.

We seem to have a fairly wide range right here.

So much for my serious answer.

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