Plot Development: Confusing is not the Same as Mysterious

When we pointed out to a recent client that parts of his story were confusing, he said that was just what he intended. Readers were supposed to be confused, and the muddle would all be cleared up later in the book.

Confusion? Really? Here is the Miriam Webster definition that popped up for confusion:

1. Lack of understanding; uncertainty.
2. A situation of panic; a breakdown of order: “the shaken survivors retreated in confusion”.

There are, we suppose, people who like to be confused and delightfully confusing books that lead readersconfusion down one path, only to leave them at a dead end and start up again in another baffling direction. But we would argue that when readers talk about “getting into a good book,” they do not generally mean “getting into a state of confusion”.

Being confusing is different from being mysterious and suspenseful. What we often see is authors trying to be mysterious by introducing a plot element like say a sword with unknown and yet-to-be-proven magic powers without any explanation at all. The less said, the more mysterious, right?

No. A sword by itself signals nothing to the reader. But if the sword had an interesting history or appeared on the scene in a particular manner, one might be curious to know what’s up with the sword. A random sword is confusing. One with context is something to wonder about.

One way to do this is to put yourself into the head of a particular character and tell the story of the sword as he or she discovers its magic powers.