1. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    complex or complicated?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by deadrats, Sep 8, 2016.

    How do you know if your story is complex or complicated? Complex would be a good thing. Complicated can too easily means it's confusing. I love a complex plot, but sometimes I worry that I am trying too hard and just complicating things. Do you guys have any tips for keeping a complex story on track or gaging if things are working or you've gone too far?
     
  2. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would run the story by folks, see if they can get to grips with it first time. I hate having to re-read something because it was too complicated to get on the first try.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2016
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  3. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    You might track the elements that make it complex, starting from the third act (where they presumably pay off) back through the story to make sure they're:
    • established (ie. mentioned at least twice),
    • understated (ie. the pay-off isn't obvious until you get there),
    • oblique (established in disassociated circumstances), and
    • motivated.
    I've come across articles relating to set-up-pay-off while wandering the wild seas of the Internet. They shouldn't be too hard to find.
     
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  4. Ann-Russell
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    Ann-Russell Member

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    Regarding something like this, beta-readers are going to be your best friend. They'll be able to give you feedback directly regarding the plot and whether it was too much to keep track of or just the right amount of complexity. Then you can go back and edit as needed.
     
  5. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Interesting topic!

    On some levels, I think if the writing itself is of adequate quality, I'll be able to follow even the most 'complicated' plot (hence it won't actually seem complicated). After all, I suppose the primary purpose of language is effective communication.

    A lot of the time I can identify 'distractions' that I think obscure my understanding of the plot: too many pointless characters, characters with names that are too similar, stories that require me to remember intricate numbers, etc. E.g. ASoI&F/Game of Thrones: I've never been as convinced as others that G.R.R Martin actually knows(/knew?) where he was going with the plot, to the point that I'd even have considered calling it plotless - I think this is because there are just so many characters, most of them fairly irrelevant, with little indication of whose struggles actually have broader implications (until later). Possibly he just took a scattergun approach to plotting ("Well I'll just plant a bunch of seeds and see which ones grow"), or possibly he's planted a lot of red herrings to try and maintain some mystique (a cheap way of doing it IMO), but either way, on reading the books, I found them irritatingly difficult to follow at times ("Wait, who was this guy again? Wasn't he dead?", etc). I didn't mind them overall, but I doubt I'd reread - it just seems like the plot that's emerged is actually pretty simple, just decorated with obfuscation.

    The kind of plotting I like as a reader - perhaps what you might consider 'complex' - is when it has a simple surface plot that I can easily understand on first read-through, yet there are other layers and ancilary points that may only ever be implied rather than directly stated. Often I'll finish my first read-through with an understanding of the overall plot, but reflecting on it makes me think 'I seem to remember that character A was interested in plot point X early on - I wonder if the author is implying that character A actually acted behind-the-scenes to cause plot development Y', and that is the kind of speculation that gets me rereading to look for evidence. These are the kind of plots that spawn far-fetched theories (or perhaps only far-fetched sounding, depending on the level of evidence!) on the net and have people talking for years. I absolutely loved a particular first installment (originally a standalone piece) because I thought it possible that the villains father, rather than being the character generally stated as such, might have been one of the MCs (who had an ambiguously reciprocated relationship with the villain's mother at around the right time). I hated the cash-in sequel (in part) because it made a definitive statement about the villain's parentage that killed my speculation in the most boring way possible.

    The two main points there would be:
    • The plot complexity need not be something the reader has to notice. The outcome of the story still makes sense if this slips under the radar. But the complexities might enhance the reader's appreciation of characters, setting, other plot details or theme if they are considered. (Which goes back to one of my personal writing philosophies: that in a good story the four key components should be interwoven as much as possible.)
    • A lot of this complexity actually arises from what you don't write, rather than what you do. You need to make clear the skeleton of the plot for the ending to make sense, but you'll engage the reader's imagination way more by leaving dots that they can connect for themselves. Like... you can appreciate a well-decorated cake from a distance, but you can also move closer and admire the intricacies of the icing and ornaments in their own right. (This goes back to another of my writing philosophies: that subtlety - implying instead of stating - does wonders at engaging the reader, at pretty much all levels.)
    Just my thoughts; I'm sure many will disagree, and others will have entirely different perspectives :)
     
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  6. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Thanks for you well thought out response, Syfunkle. A agree with what you say. Interesting that subtext plays such a role in this, but I think you're right and it does. Just thinking of a few examples in my head right now. Subtext does seem to generate a more complex story. Is that something you use often? I've made a few attempts to use subtext in the past, but it wasn't something I was thinking about with this story, and I think maybe it is worth considering to see if that doesn't streamline the story a bit more. Thanks a lot!

    And thanks to all the responders. Beta readers aren't really my thing right now. Maybe that will change if I get to know some of you a little better and if someone writes things along the same lines as I write. Plus, I wouldn't want to show a beta something I'm struggling with. I don't think that's fair to the beta reader. In my opinion, showing your work too early to anyone is always a mistake.
     

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