Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guest blogger: Writing With Clarity, by Karen Cioffi

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines clarity as lucidity, clearness of thought.

Writing with clarity can be a difficult aspect of writing. There isn't a GPS for clarity. And, no matter how clear you think you are conveying a particular sentence, paragraph, or theme, the reader may not be able to see what you intend - you've missed the clarity mark.

How does this happen?

Missing the clarity mark may happen even if you have clearness of thought; if that clearness of thought or intent doesn't translate onto paper, you will have missed the mark.

As the author, you know what you're thinking, what motives are involved, what you assume the reader should be seeing, or understanding-this knowledge may cloud your perception of what is actually being conveying. This clarity cloud can at times create a gap between what you think you're saying and what you actually say. This happens because as the author, you're too close to your own writing.

Think of a color. Now, think of a very specific hue or shade within that color. Now, try to write what you see or explain it.

This is what can happen with your story. You can see what's unfolding clear as day, the scene, the characters, and the intent. But, your vision may not translate with clarity onto paper. You may think it has, but that doesn't mean it actually has.

An example of this is a children's picture book I reviewed. The content and illustrations were well done, but there was one problem. The story ultimately was about the main character having to go through a metamorphosis in order to be accepted by others. This is what a reader, a child, might take away from the story. While the story had a number of good points, this one flaw was problematic. The authors knew what they intended, but that intent didn't show through. And, because they were so sure of their intent, they couldn't see that the take away value of the story could be anything but what they intended.

Fortunately, there is help in this area: a critique group. Every writer who is writing a manuscript should belong to a critique group. Having three, six, or ten other writers, who write in the same genre, will help you find many of the pitfalls in your story. They are the unknowing audience. They have no perceived conception of your story, so they will be able to see where it goes astray and where it lacks clarity.

For more on writing, ghostwriting, freelance writing, and promotion visit: http://KarenCioffi.com While you're there, be sure to sign up for Karen's FREE monthly newsletter, A Writer's World, and get TWO FREE e-books on writing and marketing in the process. For writing services visit: http://DKVWriting4U.com



The Crypto-Capers Series said...

Great article, Myra. When I review books as well I notice some of the same things. It is a very good point to bring up. Do you know of any critique groups off hand? Also, for anyone who is interested on my blog I have lots of children's books from various publishers that I have reviewed. Feel free to check them out at thecryptocapersseries.blogspot.com or my books at www.reneeahand.com
Your blog is always full of great information.

Karen Cioffi said...

Hey, Mayra, clarity it something we authors don't always think about - what will the reader, in children's author's cases - children, take away from the story. As a parent or grandparent you want to make sure you're instilling emotionally healthy take-away values from the books the children in your family read.

Renee, you can check out the forum in SCBWI for critique groups.


Ellen said...

Great article. It's always helpful when someone else can take an objective look at your writing!

The Crypto-Capers Series said...

Thanks Karen. I am apart of the SCBWI I will check out that forum. Your article will help a lot of writers. Great job!


Turning the Clock Back said...

Very insightful. I can see where getting another's opinion would be helpful but also intimidating at the same time!

Admin said...

Love this guest post!

Rachel Newstead said...

This has to be the first post, the first piece of writing, really, I've seen that discussed this problem. Clarity can be a nightmare to achieve, at least for me.

I blog about animation, and therefore review a lot of old cartoons. It's all too easy to assume my readership has seen these old cartoons a thousand times already, so they would automatically know what I'm talking about. Not so.

I'll often want to direct my readers to certain subtle details about a cartoon, details they might "gloss over" even after dozens of viewings. The timing of a gag, subtle poses and expressions, the drawing style, the use of backgrounds--these are things that register in the back of our minds, and often have to be brought to our attention. For instance, if you're familiar with the Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck "Duck Season/Rabbit Season" cartoons, you've no doubt noticed how the flick of an eyelid or the cluck of a tongue can be as funny as the wildest, zaniest slapstick. We know these things are funny without fully understanding why.

Having a blind co-blogger, oddly enough, has helped me immensely. He hasn't been able to see in thirty years, and only has dim memories of the cartoons he saw growing up. I, therefore, have to provide him with far more visual information than I would give the average reader when discussing cartoons for a blog entry or podcast. Meaning every camera move, character entrance/exit, every gag and the sound effect accompanying it, every pose or expression. If HE understands what I'm talking about, I know my readers will.

Mayra Calvani said...

Thanks so much for all your thoughtful comments.

Karen, thanks for the helpful, informative article. It was a pleasure posting it here.

Rebecca Camarena said...

Very interesting.

Farrah aka The Book Faery said...

I had not realized that writers had critique groups. Definitely good to have. :-)

April said...

Excellent article! I agree that critique groups are a wonderful aide in writing.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why I love my beta-readers. They aren't afraid to tell me when something just didn't work for them or they didn't understand something. Beautiful people. :)

Margay said...

Something to think about...

Tribute Books said...

I think clarity is getting harder and harder to come by. Especially online, when you're communicating with the entire world - different social backgrounds, different viewpoints, etc. Everybody sees the world in such a different way. Sometimes it's quite difficult to get everyone on the same page.

Interesting post!

Best wishes,
Tribute Books