How subtle is too subtle? "It's a hard line to walk," a writing friend said recently, "because it's all obvious to me."
I feel the same way. Though I don't write complex mysteries, at least not yet, there's virtually always something to figure out. Characters learn things about themselves and about their relationships with those around them, and I want readers to have the chance to say, "ahah! I knew Hortense had it coming!" or "Yes! Called it! Snydley is a good friend who should be treated better!" (No, I am not writing The Adventures of Snydley and Hortense, but I think I'll continue to pretend I am for the purpose of examples on this blog.)
Anyone who's watched a TV show with me knows that I'm a proponent of "show, don't tell" as a major rule of storytelling. I'd much rather have Snydley come unexpectedly to Hortense's defense than say, "No matter how many times Hortense left Snydley to make snow angels by himself, he was always there for her." But how strong or frequent do hints have to be for readers to pick up on them? Does the answer to that question change depending on the age of the intended reader?
What do you all think? Snydley is waiting patiently for your response. (Hortense is too busy obsessing over her Facebook status.)