11 November 2015

When Vagueness Goes Wrong

When we choose to be vague about something that we write, it always leaves things open to interpretation. Maybe that's what you want, and maybe it isn't. People may be able to figure out what you actually meant, they may just stare at it scratching their heads, or they may take it in the entirely wrong direction.

Ok, that paragraph may seem a little vague in itself. Usually you have to have a really good reason for being vague. It most likely shouldn't turn up in your fiction, unless, for instance, if your character is doing it on purpose. It's perfectly fine to confuse other characters but confusing the reader may be a bad choice. If the reader isn't in on it, or if you don't give an explanation for being vague, it may just make things confusing.

But there are times where you may need to be vague, but that can also go wrong. Take my blog post on Monday, for instance. When I was talking about my idea for a weird scene, I decided to be vague about what it was actually about. This was pretty much for one reason: censorship. Well, ok, spoilers, too, but that was more about who was involved in the scene rather than what. I didn't want to say what was happening because I figured it would make some people uncomfortable. While I'm totally fine with adult content in my books, my blog probably isn't the place for it. So I figured vagueness was the way to go. And that's where I went horribly wrong.

This is where vagueness can get you into trouble. I mentioned that my weird scene involved a character texting a family member while "something else" was going in. Now, I was totally fine with people having absolutely no idea what I was talking about. The point of the post was to talk about the idea of writing weird scenes, not about explaining what this weird scene was about. But at some point during the day I had a slap-myself-in-the-face kind of revelation.

I felt like people assumed I meant my scene was taking place in a bathroom, to which I would say, EW! Really, I'm open to writing about most things, and I've certainly written scenes that take place in a bathroom, but never involving the most common things one would do in there. Because, like I said before, EW! I can't imagine a scenario in one of my stories where that would be necessary. Some things are better left unsaid, really. As far as I'm concerned, my characters don't go to the bathroom. What I meant was that something sexual was happening, but I just didn't want to say it (because fiction-writing me is a lot braver than blog-writing me).

But maybe I'm wrong and people actually understood what I meant. Some of the comments were vague as well so I have no idea what my readers were actually thinking. Maybe I just overthink things waaaaaaaaaaay too much (what else is new?). But I'm also thinking bigger picture here. When you purposely try to be vague, you leave whatever you are saying up to interpretation. So readers can take it whatever way seems reasonable to them. If you're fine with people being clueless, that's one thing, but they could also take whatever you're saying in the entirely wrong direction. So we have think if being vague is really worth all the trouble.

Have you ever written anything vague? Did people take it the wrong way?


  1. Haha, I love that your ews were capitalized! I've written some things that could totally be taken one way, when I didn't mean it like that at all. Thankfully my cp's always catch it. =)

  2. Your characters don't use the bathroom... LOL! Yes, I purposely write vague at times--when the reader needs to NOT know a spoiler one character would be thinking early on or when things get intimate. (I'm a clean writer.) I'll lead the reader to the door, but what happens beyond is all metaphor and pretty similie.

  3. No, I definitely imagined something sexual going on. We tend to think the same so I think I know exactly what was going on.

    And you're right...when it comes to a character using the bathroom, some things are better left unsaid.

  4. My characters don't use the bathroom either. I didn't think you were referring to the bathroom - I thought you were referring to something sexual too! Sometimes I try to be vague to add a bit of mystery, but more often than not I just end up leaving valuable information out so the reader doesn't know what's going on, whoops.

  5. I figured you were talking something sexually. I have a few stories where I am vague about what happened in the first few scenes, but I try to make it obvious at the same time. I want the reader to know what happened to the characters, but it's something the characters don't want to talk about outloud, so they avoid it. Hopefully with beta readers, they'll let me know if I succeeded or not.

  6. Hehe! I can see why people went in a more EW! direction with that vagueness. How many times have we gone to a public bathroom and had someone in there playing on their phone or talking to someone on their phone? It happens way more often than it should, which really should be never.

  7. I figured it was happening during sex, so it wasn't vague to me.
    The way people text these days, texting from the bathroom is perfectly plausible. Disgusting, but plausible.

  8. My characters slip into the bathroom, but that's about it. I'm not going into detail about any of that. It is EW.

  9. No vagueness here on this end. I often write vague-y stuff like that 99% of the time on my blog. I like to keep my main blog PG-13 as much as I possibly can. Fortunately, almost all of my readers can deduce (for they are very smart) what the actual idea 99% of the time is when I'm vague about it. It's only the 1% (usually about work or something extremely personal) that they don't get unless I actually them.

    Father Nature's Corner

  10. This really hits home for me. I'm not so concerned about my vagueness in fictional writing--I know I used to do it a lot when I wrote short stories, but I was trying to experiment with vagueness for some kind of effect.

    Where I tend to be vague these days is in my blog post writing. I've done a number of posts where I've attempted to say things without really saying them for fear of offending certain people. In a way I'm writing these things for myself to get them from weighing down my mind to much. Some people get what I'm saying judging from their comments while others I'm not sure.
    Touching upon potentially controversial topics can stir conversation, but delving into them and putting them blatantly out in the open can stir up trouble and chase away readers. I'm not interested in being that type of blogger for now, but I hate just locking up everything inside all the time.

    Even this comment might seem vague, I'm not sure. I'd like to think that just the writing part is a good exercise and that in the end what I've written has merit even the content isn't very clear.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

  11. I have a gutter mind, so I went to the bed chambers, not the bathroom. :)

    I have found being vague is not my friend in writing. People say, I don't get it. Then I've tried being vague because I didn't want to give away information. That just made people want to know more...and I had no intentions on telling more. Alas.

    As far as the bathroom goes, my characters make stops but the details aren't delivered. :)

  12. My Critique Person blasted my vagueness in my ms. She said to tell it like it is. But I believe some vagueness actually works to set the scene....

  13. Yeah like most things in writing it is fine to do as long as you are doing it for a reason the worst is when people don't know they are doing it and it changes what they wanted to come across. Great post.