The plot should never be a mystery to the audience.

I rank that one rule above all the others.  If I do not succeed in this one area, neither technical prowess, clever phrasing, nor clean and powerful prose can save me.  The truth of it transcends the delivery mechanism.  Whether a novel, film, or play–the audience cannot cheer for the protagonist if no one can understand the plot.  Nobody can gain any sort of satisfaction or catharsis from the climax of conflict if the author so abuses the attention span that the poor reader never makes it there.

It isn’t clever if no one gets it.

Real deep, right?  Sure, but if not forced to come to grips with such things, our minds will happily shuffle little things like clarity and understanding aside.  We will grow enraptured with our own story-telling ability and neglect effective service to our readers.  This drives me bananas.  I hold it as my highest rule and I feel like I break it constantly.  Possibly, it doesn’t irritate you to the same degree.

Perhaps you’ve not yet trained yourself to recognize the effects.

Early on, before I found Critters, I would subject my friends and family to my writing.  That sounds bad, but actually, it’s worse than that, rising to the heights of bad form usually only inhabited by Multi-Level Marketing.  Don’t do it.  It’s cute when a child colors a picture and his mother puts it on the refrigerator.  You are not a child.  You will not get valid feedback and people will start avoiding you.

You need honesty.

Whether you want it or not, and honestly, none of us wants it.  We want to bask in the glowing words of positive affirmation.  We want to hang our picture on the fridge, but we can’t.  Not if we want to get better.  Only carefully applied abrasion sharpens a blade, softness without aim can only dull.

Let me guess, although I’ve experienced it enough on my own to be certain, you ask someone to read your latest work.  Afterwards they respond with something like, “Oh, I really liked it.  I don’t know if I completely understood the ending, but I don’t usually read that kind of story.”  Alternatively, maybe they say, “I probably need to read it again, I got distracted by such and such.”  The worst of all, however, sounds like simply this, “It was great!  Thanks for letting me read it.”
Naturally, you are curious to ferret out all the points that they found confusing, and then the arguing begins.  What?  Argument?  Never!  Speaking for only myself then, I try to convince them why it makes sense.  I’ll carefully explain to them about the clue I buried in the text that they so obviously missed.  I reason with them concerning the motivation of the character.  Sometimes I win, and that’s the saddest thing of all.  When I win the argument verbally, the story loses utterly.  This singular truth hit me like a ton of bricks one day as I caught myself wishing to explain things to the editor of a professional market.  They didn’t understand me.  They were not following the story.  They, they, they…

I was wrong.

If the story can’t explain itself, then it is the author’s fault.  I’m not talking about mysteries.  Brilliant when mystery drives the plot, disaster when mystery hides the plot.  Cultivate your awareness.  Moreover, when it happens, resist the urge to forgive yourself.

Wade in there and fix it!