By: Darcy Pattison
Reader confusion is a common problem with first drafts. Prose is ambiguous, and scene details leave conflicting ideas of the time line or the physical location of the characters.
Reader Confusion: Clarify Your Prose
The problem of ambiguous prose lies in the writing itself. Let’s look at some common problems and how to solve them.
Fuzzy thinking. OK, you were knocking off a draft of a chapter at midnight and, well, you got fuzzy in your thinking. It happens. But you can’t leave prose that is garbled. As you read through your draft, mark places where your sentence structure got complex in an effort to explain something. To revise, first get the thought straight in your own head. Then, write it in simple sentences because it will force you to clarify your thoughts. Then, if appropriate for your audience, combine those sentences into a prose that flows better.
Technical explanations. When I have technical explanations — in my WIP, I have to explain a complicated process to defeat a black hole — I often find a new or naive reader. I want to know where they got confused or what they still had questions about. Then I’ll rewrite and repeat until the naive reader understands. Try to make even technical explanations simple enough for a child to understand.
Pronoun Antecedent. A good command of language means that sometimes you use pronouns to avoid repeating a noun over and over. But too often, it’s not clear who/what the pronoun is referring to. The rule is that a pronoun refers back to the noun closest to it.
When Jack and Bob decided to eat out, he decided they should go to a Mexican restaurant.
Who decided? Jack or Bob? The noun immediately before “he” is Bob. When there are multiple people involved, it’s usually best to repeat the person’s name.
When Jack and Bob decided to eat out, Bob decided they should go to a Mexican restaurant.
This one is a pet peeve of mine, and I’m always aggravated when the pronoun’s antecedent is confusing. If repeated often, it can make me close the book and move on to something else.
Word Choices. . .
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