I’ve had more than one reader express confusion about Chapter Three of The Telling. Like this Tweep:
I’ve had at least half-a-dozen readers say something similar. I kind of expected it. In a way, I intended it. You see, Chapter Three introduces the reader to Fergus Coyne, my antagonist. Fergus is a very troubled man, involved in some very dark stuff. I decided to introduce him to the reader during one of his trance episodes. The chapter is really short, not quite two pages. But it’s also a rambling, seemingly disconnected hodge-podge of sensations and memories. And crucial bits of plot. Then Chapter Four returns to normal.
But honestly, I’m not sure what to make of some readers’ struggle with the chapter. If you read often, and broadly, you’ll ineviatbly come across these sorts of “difficult chapters.” You know, chapters that plop you down right in the middle of something bizarre or tense or hectic without bothering to explain. I intended Chapter Three to do something similar. Which leaves me wondering at why the chapter has been such a hiccup for some readers.
My daughter Alayna, who admirably took on the Harry Potter series and conquered it, once asked me about difficult chapters. You know, those chapters where things are going along just fine and, out of the blue, a scene or character arrives that disrupts your footing and leaves you asking questions. I told her the same thing I told the writer of the above Tweet:
Just keep reading. It will all make sense in the end.
Out of context, any chapter can seem confusing. But context only comes with a fuller understanding of the whole story. Which is why the best response, by a reader, to a confusing chapter is to simply keep reading. If it doesn’t make sense at the end, then you’ve probably got a legitimate gripe. But please don’t base your assessment of the whole book on a couple of tough chapters.
Anyway, it’s made me think about those “difficult chapters.” First, as a writer. Should writers avoid “difficult chapters” like my Chapter Three because they might confuse readers? Then again, perhaps it was my writing that confused them. If that’s the case, I need to take note. And then there’s readers. As a reader, how do you recommend approaching those “difficult chapters”?
(BTW: You can read that entire third chapter of The Telling on Google Docs HERE. But remember — this is just one chapter out of 50-plus.)