Is there a disconnect between your intention and the reader’s understanding? If so, here are a couple of approaches to bridge the gap and make clarity sure.
Back in the old days, when I taught acting, I developed a reputation for lecturing actors about gender and sexual presentation in theatre. Most of my actors were adorable messes of gender confusion, which is perfect for normal life and disastrous for live stage performance.
One time, I had a meeting with several of my actors and one young woman (brown hair, moderately tall, svelte), said something to the tune of, “Oh, no! Now Victor Poole is going to make me feel guilty for not wearing high heels and makeup all the time!”
A Disconnect Between Writer and Reader
This female actor was hearing something that I wasn’t saying, and, being a diligent person, I took note and adjusted my phrasing to suit her mind.
Yesterday I read a scene to my editor, and I’d phrased one sentence in a way that led him to completely visually misinterpret the remainder of the scene. We had a laugh over the misunderstanding and I added two more sentences, which made my original intention completely clear.
When You’re Writing, Make A Bridge to the Reader
- Readers are coming from a different planet, most of the time.
- Luckily, their planet is connectible with your planet if you build a bridge.
- Only 1% of readers will bother to build a bridge to you, so you have to take responsibility for making the bridge to them
You Are the Builder of the Bridge
Here are some easy tricks to help you successfully connect your writing to the understanding of the reader, with as few hiccups as possible.
A bridge has some method of support that holds it up. A bridge also has a foot-path upon which the reader crosses over. The supports are underpinning writing qualities, and the foot-path is the plot.
Here are some of the heavy-duty methods that support a bridge between the intent of your writing and the received understanding of the reader:
- described visceral, sensory input (sight, hearing, smell, etc.)
- realistic physical mammalian response common to human beings
- universal emotional experience
One You Have Supports in Place, the Rest of the Bridge is Story
It’s possible to have functional supports, but no plot, and it’s possible and common to have a plot, or a foot-path of a bridge, without the necessary supports to make it walkable.
My earlier snafu with my editor was due to some missing visual description; once I added in a couple of clarifying sentences, we were off to the races again.
You need both supports for the bridge (sensory description to allow the reader to ground their mind, emotional scenarios that resonate with the reader’s lived experience, etc., etc.) and you need a plot, or a surface upon which the reader can cross over from their mental world into theirs.
If you are finding that your readers aren’t always hearing what you’re saying, look at your material with the analogy of a bridge in your mind, and separate the parts of your writing into two general camps:
- Supports to the story, which, again, are things like: sensory descriptions, usage of proven psychology, emotionally evocative scenarios, etc.
- Plot, or story, which is the actual foot-path upon which the reader crosses from their mental planet into yours
If you remember that you are ultimately responsible for building and maintaining a useable and attractive bridge, and you keep in mind the two very different and totally necessary parts of said bridge, you will be able to share a marvelous common experience with the reader, and both of you will be deeply satisfied by the experience of sharing and understanding your work.
You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, poor John, the fabulous handsome man of yore, is having his heart broken on a stairwell in his adopted son’s building this morning. I pity John, who has been ill-used, and is due for a happy ending. I intend to give John an overwhelmingly happy ending.