The distinction between them is largely in the mind of the reader. Still, one might call it teasing, pleasing uncertainty versus irritating, dispiriting confusion. Gregory Ciotti (“How to Write with Substance”) offers a useful way to view this: “Write to express, not to impress.”
He goes on to suggest that you
Brainstorm horizontally, revise vertically. What makes for a boring novel is the same as what makes for boring non-fiction: the story grows horizontally instead of vertically. Writing that is “too wide” tries to explain everything but ends up saying nothing.
In other words, it’s okay (though not necessarily optimal) to play with every possibility as you begin. But once you start to consider reader needs, which is what revision’s really about, then it’s time first to narrow and cut, then to develop not with glaring clarity, but enough of it so readers can feel intrigued rather than lost.
Lack of context loses readers faster than anything else. To the novelist, it’s always obvious how the story moved from one room to another, from one mind to another, or from one issue, connection, or symbol to another. But how obvious are those to anyone else?
The potentially worst sources of blur include:
* Failing with setting.
This is a fertile breeding ground for cliche and vagueness. Be swift and original.
* Introducing a new character.
Pay special attention to characters who echo others in terms of roles, names, traits,
* Jolting readers by abruptly altering time, place, physicality, symbolism.
Provide clear but subtle transitions.
Great novels are rarely immediately accessible. Establish essential guideposts. Then seek subtext.
~ Subtext is the unspoken but revealed feelings and history and dreams of your characters.
~ Subtext is strong because it reveals truth—true emotions and true thoughts and unfeigned motivations.
Subtext that runs through a story brings depth and dimension. It ramps up tension and conflict. It’s much deeper, more fundamental to a character’s traits or personality than is surface revelation. Because what underlies the text is not explicitly stated, the reader might have to look harder, listen closer. ~ Beth Hill, “Subtext—Revelation of the Hidden”
Tip: The optimal level of clarity is less obvious than it seems. Pun intended.