Give the reader a break: Plotting and chaos

SUMMARY: Ed Wilson talks about plotting and chaos. He recommends helping the reader.

Last night I had a dream. If I do dream, normally by the time I wake up the dream is gone. This morning, however, I remembered the dream. It went something like the following:

I woke up, walked into my living room. My recliner was gone, as was my XBOX One. The room was littered with paper, boxes, and various fast food wrappers. The window was missing, and a large piece of cardboard was in its place. I went outside, and got into my car. I could barely see over the dashboard. I noticed the cardboard window had writing on it, and massive amounts of duck tape held it in place. I could not understand what the writing conveyed.

I began to back out of my parking space. The space went on, and on, and on. Finally, I began to head out of the parking lot, but cars were sitting in random fashion, and I felt like I was navigating a downhill slalom. Once on the highway, nothing moved. A tree crew was busy sawing the large oak trees into fireplace lengths. I stopped to adjust my seat upwards so I could better see out of the car. Another vehicle attempted to pass between my car and the tree truck. Suddenly sirens erupted everywhere. They kept getting louder, and louder—but they too seemed foreign, almost like sea gulls squawking over a fish. My alarm.

So the dream is not all that strange. In fact, I know exactly what it is saying. It shows me as being out of control, and in a world surrounded with chaos. Even the things closet to me – language, the comfort of my own chair, driver settings in my own car, all seem strange and out of place. Clearly the dream echo’s my own feeling of being overwhelmed by numerous projects, with impending deadlines. Yep, I just saved myself five hundred dollars worth of psychotherapy (a good thing since my health insurance does not cover such stuff). It is an uncomfortable feeling.

Don’t confuse your readers.

Confusion is not suspense. Readers like a good mystery story. They love reading thrillers. But confusion is not suspense. Chaos is not mystery. Not knowing what is going is not thrilling. When the plot degenerates into a morass of confusion, that is about the time the book goes sailing across the room, and the author goes on my blacklist.

It is a sad fact that there are more books published in a single year than I will ever be able to read in an entire lifetime.  So when I invest four or five hours in a book, and I am unable (or unwilling) to finish reading it, I feel really cheated. Never mind that I probably wasted twenty or thirty dollars on the book, that is four or five hours I will never have back again (money spent can be earned again, time spent is gone forever).

A writer makes several contracts with the reader. One of these contracts goes something like this:

Spend the next eight to ten hours with me, and I will tell you a story. The characters are interesting, the plot is engrossing, and the story will be memorable.

I hope you have a great day today.

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