Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Question of Subtlety

I have trouble understanding how subtle I need to be with various hints in my stories. I have always heard to trust the readers, that they are smarter than people give credit for. So, when writing my first novel I made some semi-subtle hints about some stuff. Looking at it again during editing I thought to myself that it was too obvious, that I needed to be more subtle. Then I was shocked when none of my beta readers got any of the clues!

Okay, so now I just wrote a short story. I am not a short story writer, so I am having serious trouble understanding if it is decent or complete garbage. I had some constraints, because I set it within the world of my book, but twenty years earlier. So, place and character names had to be the same, as well as the general feel of the world.

I wanted a story that showed the compassion and empathy of my main character, but I think it is not subtle enough. I feel like the story is not bad, but certain parts are difficult and I'm not sure I pulled it off well. I had to set part of it in a hospital, and since people generally dislike hospitals I didn't want to dwell there, but the story called for it. Anyhow, I need help if I am to have any chance of selling this to a magazine. (I'd like a short story or two published so I can add that to my queries as a credential). Anyone out there willing to read a short story and give me the honest truth?


  1. Send it over. piedmontwriter at gmail dot com

  2. Ted - I would like to see it, but am too busy with the crit group to provide feedback right now. If you want to send me a copy I will get to it someday. Sounds like Anne is the way to go for now though.

  3. Hi, Ted. Would you be willing to swap? Saw you on Nathan Bransford's blog and thought I'd stop by. I have problems with the whole subtlety thing, too. I love it too much. ;D

  4. Such a hard line to walk! I think there are different kinds of readers, too--some don't notice because they just aren't looking for clues. I tend to be a person who really appreciates them after the fact but NEVER spot them in process.

    And I've had readers who spot clues I leave that were never intended to be clues... Things I put in, because I plot ahead, but totally had not intended it as a clue at all--the reader is just more clever than me.

    I don't know if this works--I might be completely making this up... but MAYBE a NON-subtle clue early on, to clue readers in that you are giving clues, and then be more subtle later, so nobody can accuse you of underestimating your audience.

  5. Thanks so much for the comments and offers. I have written to some of you already.

    Tart, in this case I can't have bigger clues up front, at least I don't think so. The reason is that this world, for very specific reasons, has never developed religion (except among some of the barbarian tribes). Since one of my characters came from earth originally, he knows about religion. There are occasions where either by accident or by having little choice he gives hints that he knows something more than he is saying, but he doesn't want to open Pandora's Box so he keeps much of his greater knowledge of the universe to himself. Since he is not one of the POV characters, this makes it hard to deal with the subtleties!

  6. Ted, how long is your story? If it's under 5k, I could take a look at it sometime this week.

    You can send it here: mariazannini AT gmail DOT com.

  7. Thanks again to Piedmont Writer and Maria Zannini. Both gave me valuable feedback, and I am going to overhaul the story completely.