How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#1
Disclaimer: I'm not actually claiming most readers are stupid. But some of them are.

By 'stupid' I mean unable to use their critical thinking to come to logical conlusions about what is happening in the story they are reading. Sometimes when getting feedback on my stories from beta readers (the ones who don't ghost me) I notice that some of them complain about things that I had assumed were obvious.

A good example is not being able to identify the speaker because there is no dialog tag, even though the whole set-up of the scene, in addition to the dialog itself is such that it's not hard telling who is doing the speaking. I get it that dialog tags are needed but I try to not use them too much since having too many of them looks ugly.

And it's not just my stories. When reading reviews/feedback/comments that people have posted (not just on RR but on the internet in general) on other stories/books I sometimes can't help but laugh. It's like they don't understand anything that is happening unless it's made extremely obvious to them in the writing. It seems that they can't be expected to use their reasoning ability to come to logical conlusions about how things work. It has to be stated outright. Every. Single. Time. Just lol.

This is without mentioning other problems, like people not actually understanding the point/idea of the story, and walking away with the wrong idea.

Again, this is not everybody. But it does not seem to be only a trivial number of people.

Maybe I'm just being biased and most readers are smart intelligent people. Or not. I dunno.

When asking for feedback (or when getting it after your story has been published) have you ever felt like some readers are just not smart enough to understand your story?

Re: How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#3

splattenburgers Wrote: Disclaimer: I'm not actually claiming most readers are stupid. But some of them are.

By 'stupid' I mean unable to use their critical thinking to come to logical conlusions about what is happening in the story they are reading. Sometimes when getting feedback on my stories from beta readers (the ones who don't ghost me) I notice that some of them complain about things that I had assumed were obvious.

A good example is not being able to identify the speaker because there is no dialog tag, even though the whole set-up of the scene, in addition to the dialog itself is such that it's not hard telling who is doing the speaking. I get it that dialog tags are needed but I try to not use them too much since having too many of them looks ugly.

And it's not just my stories. When reading reviews/feedback/comments that people have posted (not just on RR but on the internet in general) on other stories/books I sometimes can't help but laugh. It's like they don't understand anything that is happening unless it's made extremely obvious to them in the writing. It seems that they can't be expected to use their reasoning ability to come to logical conlusions about how things work. It has to be stated outright. Every. Single. Time. Just lol.

This is without mentioning other problems, like people not actually understanding the point/idea of the story, and walking away with the wrong idea.

Again, this is not everybody. But it does not seem to be only a trivial number of people.

Maybe I'm just being biased and most readers are smart intelligent people. Or not. I dunno.

When asking for feedback (or when getting it after your story has been published) have you ever felt like some readers are just not smart enough to understand your story?

It happens from time to time. Which if it does happen, sometimes I am literally pointing to the previous thing they read. As well as their question gets answered soon after they ask it, because they read further. The way I write, critical thinking is a must. Though, I also give enough clues. So really, only very few can figure everything out. Most can at least connect dots, which is something. Then there are those who get distracted, and realize they have to be paying attention. As the person above stated, it can be that they are skimming. No matter how well I write, it doesn’t come as a surprise if someone has trouble using even a bit of critical thinking. 

I’ve even had complaints at specific parts before, and all I am thinking, is the part they already read, where the connecting point begins. Impatience is factor as well. On the most part though, I have no issues with readers. It seems in my base, the ones that completely do not understand are in the extremely small minority. Those who can connect the dots are average, and those who really nail down the story are in an extremely small group. 

Note as well, age group plays a role as well. My story typically appeals to age 35-45+. However, written for a younger audience of 18-25+. Which is kinda weird that I attract older people past 25, but that is fine with me. It might be due to my style, and that it is written in a more mature way, and is focused.

Re: How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#6

Mad Wrote: I think the comment I got that I hated the most was something along the lines of "Ah yes, this story is clearly a clever allegory for feminism, well done!" And I'm like... no. It's not an allegory for anything. It's just a story.
So yeah, some readers will be all "I dOn'T gEt It" while others will way overthink things. I'd consider them both stupid.
Humans, amIright?

XD

You reminded me of something.

This was a while back, maybe two years ago? Anyway, it was something similar, but more I think with the person having an issue that the leading character is a female. They asked why, so I just answered them normally. That when I write my stories, I look at the end. Whoever I see at the end, that will be the leading character. Turns out, it was a female, so female it is. Really basic, and nothing much to it.

Not getting into my planning process, that can actually get complicated. Anyway, yeah…there are quite a bit of different peeps out there. Some questionable no less.

And another thing you reminded me about with the overthinking things, where someone was trying so hard to figure it out, but completely missed the mark. You can imagine my facepalm. 😂

Re: How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#7
There are occasions when a single reader might have trouble comprehending sections of a written work, but if multiple "dumb" readers are pointing out the same things as each other that might mean there actually is a problem.

Writers can sometimes have "blinders" on when they write. Because the author knows everything that's happened, will happen, and is happening in their stories they can often forget that what may be clear to them isn't always clear to the readers. Readers aren't all knowing. If you set up a scene with say three or more people speaking and don't include dialogue tags every now and then along the way, it would be relatively easy for a reader to get lost. The reader may not know who is speaking the same way that the author would.

The reader doesn't have that "scene" visible in their head the same way the author does, while the author has to translate that vision or idea into something the reader can understand. Some things can get lost in that translation.

Re: How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#8
If you think having too many dialogue tags looks ugly, you are probably only using dialogue tags that are short?  Maybe using the same few tags over and over again?  A dialogue tag can be an entire sentence, it can even be a sentence broken in half with the dialogue in the middle. There are also many many verbs which can be used as tags, because they can refer to some other body language or action as long as it is performed by the same character speaking.

Example: 

Drew pointed. "Fetch!"

Katie rolled her eyes, unimpressed with the implication that she was a dog.  Doing her best to sound like a cat, she protested, "But Meowster!  Aren't mew confusing meow with one of those *hiss* vulgar canines?"

Re: How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#9

splattenburgers Wrote: It's like they don't understand anything that is happening unless it's made extremely obvious to them in the writing. It seems that they can't be expected to use their reasoning ability to come to logical conlusions about how things work. It has to be stated outright. Every. Single. Time. Just lol.

There's been a bit of an air of superiority going on in this thread. 

If you think that you are a genius whose writing is far beyond the plebeian readership encountered in these parts you can show some of your work and have that claim validated. There are many tremendously intelligent writers here who'll love to have discussions with someone of comparable intellect. 

When it comes to your readership though I'm afraid you won't have much luck with convincing them to use their reasoning ability. The average reader consumes his fiction for pure enjoyment and not as a whetstone to sharpen his deductive abilities. Stories that are hard to understand are not something that's really popular on the market - and the market is always right.

So you either learn to express yourself in a way that is easily understood or you'll have to accept that some people will turn away from your work. I certainly belong to a category of reader that wants to read stories that are easy to read. Why go the extra mile? It's not as if a story was more rewarding because I had to reread it just to get a handle on who was talking to whom. 

I'd recommend checking out some universally acclaimed literature and see if any of it is difficult to understand. Jayne Eyre, Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment were perfectly understandable in their time and still are today. If you look for something more brainy you can read the Great Gatsby, which is still very easy to understand, but requires a bit of background knowledge to get the most out of. Or you can read Atlas Shrugged for something grounded in politics and economics. Ayn Rand was heavily critisiced for what she wrote, but no one had any trouble figuring out what she wanted to say.
Quote:If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough
- Albert Einstein


Writing isn't rocket science. It isn't even science, but the point still applies. Writing in a way nobody understands is easy. Writing so that everyone understands, pulling them in, allowing them to have a powerful emotional experience while they read. That's not just hard. That's where writing becomes art. 

So if you're having trouble with 'stupid' readers I'd advise you to look at your writing and see if there isn't something you can do by yourself to tackle that issue. Cut down on complexity, use fresh and original metaphors and sometimes simply state outright what you need your reader to know. Stupid readers aren't a problem for anyone. Writers who think they're too smart for the unwashed masses are. 

Re: How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#10
I agree with Father Grim. (I see his post everywhere these days lol) 

When there are readers who can't comprehend a writer's work, I can see why/how that can be frustrating. Like many of the above posts have said, writers do have blinders on because they should know everything about their story that readers are not privy of.  

If your story is complex, and there are readers that can't grasp the concept, then you shouldn't be forced to "dumb down" your writing style. You should always write succinctly and with clarity, and if you can truly say that your writing is clear then the fault lies in the reader and not the writer. We can't expect to have our work resonate with every single reader - that's just not realistic. 

Now i do agree (with the above post) that after my job, I am not interested in reading a literary intensive story because of the amount of thinking involved. For God's sakes, has anyone tried reading any of H.G Wells' novels when your brain is tired? It's freaking difficult lol. But i don't think that makes me a stupid reader if I don't want to fully engage with a story with all my mental prowess after a particular long day at work! 

Anyways, don't let this get you down or frustrated, OP. Keep on writing, and I'm sure you will find the balance of writing complex story/characters while still maintaining majority of your readers' retention level! It's an ongoing battle for writers!

Re: How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#11
The relevant question is how  many readers are confused.  Everybody - including you - has a stupid moment.  The question is this a case of you are not as clear as you think you are, or a case of the reader isn't smart enough.  It could go either way.

If you have a lot of readers (relative to what???) then don't worry.  There will always be complainers.  There is a reason many authors call the first .5 star rating the first sign of success.  However there are also a lot of bad books on here - start reading randomly to see this.  As an author you are too personal with your story to judge it fairly (this goes both ways - often at the same time you can be too harsh on one part while ignoring other weaknesses elsewhere).  If you only have a few, keep writing and still cannot attract more readers after a few months, then maybe it is you - maybe.

Re: How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#13
I once had a guy accuse me of cultural appropriation because I wrote a fiction set in Sengoku Japan, but wasn’t IRL Japanese. They also accused me of male emasculation because my female lead killed a man or two in combat, among other things. To this day, that review was probably top 3 for the dumbest things I’ve ever read.

Point I’m trying to make is stupid readers aren’t common, but when they speak, whew boy I hope you’re ready to go “are you retarded” multiple times as you read their gripes.

Some of the shit I’ve seen people complaining about is beyond ridiculous.

But, if we’re talking about people complaining because they can’t see the doorway in front of them, then that’s a different story. The average reading level in America for example is like, 9th grade. Writers (or those trying to write) are naturally on a higher literary level than the average reader. Because of this, writers must learn to offset their instinctual superior literary skill in order to lower their writing to a level where the average person off the street could understand it with at least 70% clarity.

If you aren’t making it obvious to the reader, odds are they’re not going to get where you were going with it. It sounds wild, but that’s how it is.

Re: How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#17

SubwayChud Wrote: While I certainly understand the OPs frustration, I always remind myself in these situations to never pick fights with readers. They are a force that cannot be defeated because the writer is the only one with anything to lose.

Yep, don’t do anything. Simply read what they say and move on. Ya know, unless their comments are toxic, then just delete it. Another thing as well, it is the base the work appeals towards.

18 - 24, specifically this Generation, there are more that seem to lack the ability to focus. Though, it is more of a mixed bag here. (College Age) 

25 - 45+, this is the range that tends to be more attentive.(Older Generation)

13 - 17, these are on the younger range, so don’t expect them to be using college level of thinking. They are still kids, and probably getting the hang of many things at this point in their life.(Younger Generation)

So, from what I have observed, if you want an audience that really gets into the finer detail. 25+ is the bet to go with. Even though my work is technically something those 18 - 24 would be interested in. I attract a lot more 25+ of age, due to the complexity of the writing. 

I do get some 13 to 17 year old as well. These are typically the ones that show what they like, which is all I am expecting. Nothing insanely unlikely, like getting down to the finer points. The college age, is where I would be expecting more to be connecting dots, and really start putting on the thinking cap. Though, that is about half as far as I can tell. It is those that are 25+ that are more worthwhile to me specifically, for a few reasons.

1. They tend to use critical thinking more. So I guess you can say later college years to out of college.

2. They are more likely to help me out, by helping me realize a better way to state something. It does not happen much, but when it does, they get my acknowledgement.

3. They tend get into longer and deeper works.

And so on.

Anyway, the point is. Different age groups, different audiences, different results. 

Re: How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#18
'Stupid' readers are just as common as 'stupid' writers. I however don't think this is a very productive way to look at things.

I also think that the example you mentioned above about those dialog tags, has little to do with intelligence. Most people just want text to flow and for it to be clear what they are reading. They don't want to go around deducing who is speaking when -- even if they have the mental capacity to do so. 
And I agree, dialogue tags can feel repetitive and annoying when overused. If things however become unclear for readers without them; just use them.

And while I do occasionally roll my eyes when reading some of the comments and reviews, in my estimation at least half of the complaints hold some merit. Because most novels on this site are simply not written that well and are (much) closer to a rough draft, than they are to a finished work. And the thing with rough drafts is often that they can be unclear, unconcise and thus need editing and/or rewriting. So if multiple avid readers complain about something: take it serious, unless you have a really good reason not to do so. And if you think you have a very good reason to ignore complaints quite often, you might want to start asking yourself if you yourself are not missing something.

Moreover, you also have to take the weakness of this medium into account. If for example you release 2 chapters per week, by the time you're at 100 chapters, 50 weeks will have passed. That's close to a year. Can you really expect a reader to remember everything he read a years ago? Hell, can you even expect from a reader to still remember what he read last month? So reading/releasing a story in a webnovel format, is simply not conducive to some of the more complex forms of storytelling. As an author you have to take this into account. 

In general I'd say that if you think you're too smart for your readers because a lot of readers just don't gets you and your story, you yourself are most likely the one that is missing something.

Ps.
Something every author should probably also keep in the back of their minds at all times: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_knowledge

Re: How common a problem are 'stupid' readers?

#19

Edge Wrote: So, from what I have observed, if you want an audience that really gets into the finer detail. 25+ is the bet to go with. Even though my work is technically something those 18 - 24 would be interested in. I attract a lot more 25+ of age, due to the complexity of the writing.

You can say that again. I hired a private eye, a scientist from CERN and a postmodern philosopher to figure out the first chapter of 'Queen of Monsters'. It's been three days and they've reached no consensus on the matter, but they've started to strangle each other. My money's on the private eye, if he's the last man standing I'm paying him triple. That's the least I can do for him.


For my next attempt I'm going to branch out into more unorthodox candidates. I think I'll take a code breaker, ancient language researcher and a guy willing to ingest at least three different psychoactive compound drugs. My money's on the last guy. For the ensuing death match I mean. I don't really think they'll get anywhere in matters of interpretation, but as long as they can resist the urge to kill for at least two days I should be able to scrap up some more 'volunteers'. While this foray into cryptology hasn't been productive, it's at least been lucrative. The torture division of the CIA is highrolling my research for some reason. As long as they keep disposing of the bodies ...

Jokes aside, have you ever heard of this:


Quote:In literary criticism, purple prose is overly ornate prose text that disrupts a narrative flow by drawing undesirable attention to its own extravagant style of writing. This diminishes the appreciation of the prose overall. Purple prose is characterized by the excessive use of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors.
- The OG Wikipedia on 'Purpose Prose'



Christopher Reeve proved how dangerous riding can be so I'll leave you safely up on that high horse, but being unintelligible isn't difficult. Neither is it rewarding, but I imagine you'd have quite a different outlook on that. 

I just wouldn't complain about short attention spans or a lack of focus when you tax the comprehension skills of your reader harder than Brennus taxed Rome.