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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I've read too many passages (mostly by inexperienced writers, I hasten to add), in which the author is trying so hard to make a point that I've been thrown bleeding against the opposite wall, and the author is still working to make his point. Believe me, I prefer subtlety!

It really is hard to tell how well a reader is going to get your point, though. I figure that's what your editor is for -- and your beta readers, and your spouse. An outside eye.
a mystery reader might take this as being deliberately written to make them think the dead person on the floor is johnson's partner.


my writing is fairly sparse, and i've found that sometimes i simply need to use more sentences when hitting a major plot point because sometimes readers don't read everything. they might read the beginning of a paragraph, but maybe skip the middle or skip the end. if i have one or two short sentences that are extremely important chances are some readers are going to miss them completely.
This is why I write everything in imabic pentameter and reference ancient Hittite mating rituals. If you can't dazzle them with brilliance...
I think there's a certain amount of trust you have to have in the reader. Yes, some will miss it, and if enough people miss it then it's a problem. But there are those who not only won't miss it, but will appreciate that you're not talking down to them and assuming they're chin dribbling morons.
I admit it. I loved the more explanatory paragraph. By the time I got to 'as a dodo', I was shooting my morning tea out my nose. Of course, if this isn't a comedy, you have a problem.
Note to self. Be very, very careful what you ask for on Crimespace, lest you wish to shoot mother effing tea out of your husband's nose.
Personally, I think this is as much a function of how fast the reader is going than whether or not your prose is perfectly clear on what's going on in the story. I've had a reader come back to me and tell me that I needed to put a particular scene in as explanation for something that happened, only to have me point her directly to the scene, already present in her copy of the story.

I've also had a reader thank me for not clubbing her over the head with the obvious, and allowing her to use her own brain to collect the clues and figure things out. That really is one of the purposes of mystery writing, that game between the reader and the author to see if the reader figures it out before the end.

There are some things you can't regulate, and that's the attention your reader gives to the story. If I find I've missed something when reading, I'll usually go back and see if I can find where it was mentioned. But maybe that's because I'm a writer and I expect that the explanation is there, I just missed it the first time through.

It always astonishes me when I've written something that I think is so blindingly obvious that I've given away the ending, and people glide right past it without understanding what I've given them. But again, that may be because I know the story so well that it stands out to me.

In general, though, I try to trust the intelligence of the reader. They're on the hunt for clues. They're smart enough to find them. And the example you gave was clear enough that the reader should have gotten it. If they didn't, they weren't paying enough attention.
True. Even the most attentive reader could miss something if they're reading on a train or keep being distracted by a partner who asks questions only when they're engrossed in a book. I know if a line in a book sets me off thinking, usually about one of my own stories, I'll find I've got through several paragraphs without noticing any of the words - though I go back to where I lost the plot in that case.
You can't explain it---if the reader doesn't feel it, you'll most like lose them at some other juncture. I knew Johnson bought it...

Dennis
That's probably true as well. Like Pepper says above, if someone has a tendancy to skim read, they may miss details or, as Anne suggests, if they overlook the middle bits of long paragraphs, then they're going to get confused sooner or later, however clear you make a particular scene. The only remedy to that, I guess, is to grab their attention so deftly that they really do hang on every word.

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