When you get vague in your manuscript, the reader wonders, “What am I not getting here?” She reads and rereads your story and ends up frustrated and does not quite “get it.” The reader may well give up—on reading the memoir or on you
Here are a few ideas as to why vagueness may happen and some solutions for creating vivid writing.
1. The author is not sure herself what she is trying to say. She has not lingered with this part of her story to extract from it the essence of her meaning. Once she has meaning, finding prose that might do justice to the expression of her feeling becomes easier.
Solution if this is you: journal around the story, look at your photos, take a walk to ruminate about the events you have written about, ask yourself, “What exactly am I trying to convey here? What do I really mean to say?”
2. Perhaps the author has not used enough details. What is clear to him (because he has lived the experience) becomes a guessing game for the reader who was not there and has only a vague idea of what went on. The author will sometimes say, “I didn’t include that info because everyone knows that” in reference to something that belongs squarely in life as it was lived in time—say in 1957 or 1971—a vantage point that many of the readers may not find themselves standing comfortably in.
Solution if this is you: write as if you are explaining this story to someone from another country or another language group (read: culture). What additional details would you find yourself including to explain a hootnanny.
3. Writers will also sometimes ask, “”What do I do to keep the attention of the reader who does know the details of my story? Won’t that be boring?” Not necessarily. This author will have to write well, use metaphors and images, imbed the text with foreshadowing and suspense, use such precision that the reader feels she is entering the setting the author is describing.
Solution if this is you: write using all the elements of great style at your disposal. A big order but the better you become at it the more fun it will be. When I wrote in #2 above “a vantage point that many of the readers may not find themselves standing comfortably in,” I was using an image. I felt the rightness of this image to capture the meaning I was seeking to express.
4. Perhaps the author is not strict about pronoun antecedents. This can be a direct route to vagueness. The author knows that “she” refers to Emily but the reader wonders if it might also refer to Beth. The reader decides after a brief consideration that it does indeed refer to Beth and so the rest of the story refocuses into some grey since the “she” refers to Emily. The reader is trying to make the story refer to Beth and, in so doing, is growing increasingly frustrated.
Solution if this is you: Place pronouns and antecedent in proximity. Do not have another name of a person or thing between the pronoun and its antecedent. Never use a pronoun without an antecedent. (This us a surprisingly frequent mistake.)
5. Your sentences are too long and are difficult to interpret. Clauses and sub clauses begin to mush together. The sentence goes on for four or five lines, and the reader begins to wonder what the main verb is and where its subject is to be found.
While a writer may legitimately say, “I don’t want to write down to my readers,” the long endless sentence is not respecting your reader. It is not respecting a reader to force him to read and reread a sentence.
Solution if this is you: Break your sentences down into shorter pieces. After ten words, look to place a period. After fifteen, see if you can rewrite the sentence to become two. (Danger to avoid: too many short declarative sentences that create a staccato effect to your prose. Even a shorter sentence can be complex, compound, or even complex-compound.)
What are some of your ideas as to why a manuscript can be vague or your solutions for writing more vividly? Tell me in a comment below.
About the Author
Denis Ledoux is an author and teacher who has been helping people to write personal and family stories since 1988 when he began presenting a memoir-writing workshop which he called Turning Memories Into Memoirs™. In 1992, Denis took the obvious next step: to publish his flagship book, Turning Memories Into Memoirs/A Handbook for Writing Lifestories. He later also wrote Photo Scribe/ How to Tell the Stories Behind Your Photos. He is the creator of November is Lifewriting Month and the The Memoir Network.
Don’t miss a single post! Subscribe now to receive every Write Nonfiction NOW! post conveniently in your email box. And if you are currently a blog subscriber using Feedburner, please resubscribe here. That service may be discontinued in the future, at which time you will stop receiving posts.
Photo courtesy of samuiblue | freedigitalphotos.net