Confusion is a writer’s enemy. When your reader gets confused by something in your manuscript, she has to stop to figure things out. I’m a cranky reader–if I get repeatedly confused, I stop reading.
There are many ways to confuse readers–some are sins of omission, others of commission.
Here are some of the major manuscript issues that have confused me as a reader:
- Switching a character’s name from his full name to a nickname without providing enough context for the switch. For example, a character might be introduced as Dr. Anthony Powell, but then is referred to as Tony in the next reference.
- Using character names that are too similar: Terry and Tara, Brandy and Sandy, Milton and Merle.
- Introducing an unusual word, term, or concept without enough context for it to be understood.
- Including two characters of the same gender in a paragraph, followed by dialogue or action that is attributed to “he” or “she,” without clarifying who is speaking or acting.
- Switching POV without a format break.
- Allowing a character to drop from a scene for three or four pages, then suddenly reappear without reintroduction.
- Including too many characters in a single paragraph or scene.
What have I left out? What are some of the things that confuse you as a reader, or that you avoid as a writer?