1. Neut
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    Neut New Member

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    Do Readers enjoy convoluted Plot or Storyline?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Neut, Jan 4, 2016.

    Hi, am new here and working on my first novel. As i develop the ideas and plot elements, it turn out that my novel increasingly get convoluted even to the point that may necessitate a prequel later on. There are just so many plot twists and flashbacks in the novel.

    Just curious to find out which is enjoyable for most readers, a linear and straight forward story line with minimal digression or convoluted one with lot of plot twists and flashbacks?
     
  2. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    It's a good question, and one that I'm thinking about to an extent myself, but more so how deliberately out of the book I might want to take the reader. In general, I'd think that too much of one or the other would be bothersome to most readers. Without getting into specifics, unless you want to, how complicated is your novel?
     
  3. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    It comes down to presentation at that point.
    A convoluted story is a mess and hard to keep track of and understand how it all relates to make a whole.
    It's typically, never a good thing as it means there hasn't been any real thought of how to put the piece together.

    However, it's been done in every medium many times and it comes down to whether the writer knew how to make it good, interesting, and well paced.
     
  4. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    A convoluted plot can work very well, but such a book needs to be very skillfully written IMHO. There needs to be a reason for the convoluted plot.
     
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  5. Neut
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    Neut New Member

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    Thanks BrianIff for the reply. My novel is a bit complicated in that it deal with multiple protagonists each with different story arcs that covers recurring events affected by past events in most cases unknown to these protagonists. Yet each protagonist 's arc crosses or interconnect with the other. To add further to this, the story 's antagonists are best described as anti-villain and so the need to explain their motivation in most cases which is not as simple as writing a pure villain.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2016
  6. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    That sounds do-able and not at all ridiculous. I'm not sure what genre you're writing in, or if you would ideally like to submit it to a pulp publisher, but is it that you worry about going over 120k words? Have you seen this done in other books? Even if you haven't, it doesn't mean it's not good. Whether you're a pantser or planner, to keep these complications front of mind seems to be a good approach, keeping an eye out for potential confusion. Or is there something more specific you're wondering about?
     
  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Different people like different things. Personally I like convoluted, multi-point-of-view, large-cast messes. Other people like things more focussed.

    That said - there's a difference between having a complicated plot and having a disorganized/bad plot. Even people like George R. R. Martin - who writes massive books with massive casts and ridiculously twisted plots - adhere to basic story structure. They're just adding a lot more intricacy. Think of a basic symbol like a cross - you can do a really simple silver cross that's just two lines and have a really pretty necklace. Or you can make a massive wooden Celtic cross with lots of intricate decorations and have a really nice wall hanging. Those two things have different sizes, materials, and uses - but they're both made skillfully and both composed of two intersecting straight lines. If you draw a circle, you can't call it a cross - no matter how well it's made.

    All that is to say I think you should look at some basic story structure templates - Three Act, Seven-Point, and Hollywood Formula are all pretty simple and non restrictive. There are some more detailed ones like the Hero's Journey although I'm not a huge fan of that one. But the point is that if you're outlining a plot, give it some base structure and then make sure all the convolutedness works into that structure.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2016
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  8. Toomanypens
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    You want the hard truth?

    If not don't read below and just do what you feel.

    The hard truth is just that you are making it convoluted to compensate for not having the main thread of the story be interesting enough on its own.

    It is really hard to make your writing precise and easy to follow, but that is why we work HARD to get it right.

    Anyone can ramble on and on, but it takes a writer to cut the fat off a story and see what really matters and serve THAT story the best way it can be served.
     
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  9. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Commandante Lemming's example is well put.

    I find it seems like a lot of things at first, when they're all in my head, or even in summary notes. I'm usually wrong. It can end up being a lot less to the reader than you think it is right now.

    Further, as long as things are related to each other in some way, satisfaction is abound. It sounds like you have central events that will ground the story, so as long as each POV has about the same pace, it should be fine.
     
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  10. LostThePlot
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    I think convoluted is the wrong word. To me that's kinda a pejorative term for works that are deliberately complex in a way that doesn't really serve the story with nonsensical out of no-where twists that aren't there with any purpose except to be a twist . That doesn't mean stories with lots of twists and turns can't be good but you really don't want to be jamming them into the story just because you can. All those twists and turns all need to be doing something, and there's only a limited number of times that unexpected things can occur before it just feels contrived. When every plot event is unexpected it begs questions about how the characters were planning on completing the plot had they not happened, and at that point things start to fall apart.

    Twists are fine, but they have to be achieving something that matters, not just there to provide cheap cliffhangers.
     
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  11. Raven484
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    I wouldn't go as far as the poster above saying you need to work harder. But you definitely seem like you are rambling. My opinion is you need to create a complete outline of your story start to finish, it will keep your story organized and your plot twists will make more sense to the reader if your story flows with the outline.
     
  12. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I think his point was more that while twists can be an easy way to create tension and surprise they don't make up for a plot that's lacking and at the end of the day there is no substitute for putting the work in.
     
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  13. CGB
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    If itis your first story just stick to the simple. Too much backstory, too convoluted, it will end up being way too much.

    most important aspect is creating an emotional experience for the reader. People don't buy books to think, they buy them to experience tension and be entertained. There are some exceptions (Malazan Book of the Fallen) but those are few and far between.
     
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  14. Toomanypens
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    Exactly, its usually a plot issue,
    You can build multi layered stories on top of a strong plot, but you can't build a strong plot by creating layers.

    I don't mean to be a downer. I really like thought provoking worlds and characters, and often you need scenes to support all of that. However, when I started writing I always wrote AROUND the plot and it made everything seem blek.

    Don't be fancy, get the basics right.

    Its like a home cooked meal, you can't mess it up if you use fresh ingredients and cook them well.
    Most people want to over complicate it, and inflate the story to make it seem more important than it is or should be.
    But as a writer you need to SERVE the story, not take it over and add and add and add.

    You have to look at it just like a violin. You serve the song and its truth, so it comes OUT from the notes, and punches the audience in the heart.

    It can just be ONE note you play, but if you do it RIGHT, it is sublime.


    BTW, I have a theory that all bad stories are simply GOOD stories that have been inflated and lost their way.
    I believe that writing a good story REQUIRES us to CUT AWAY all the inflation, ego, and posturing, so that a vulnerable, truthful, and relevant story remains.

    ALSO, writing a simple story should be OVERWHELMING. Why? Because when the basics are clicking right you will feel TOTALLY lost in the world you are creating.
    I tend to think that we fear entering our own work, and so avoid it by writing things that don't take us in. You have to DARE to fall in love with the words, and live through the characters.

    (shakes it off)

    Or something like that ;)
    Because once you dare to do that, a simple plot line is very very intense to write.
    You can't just write more and assume it makes your work artistic, art comes from fearless pursuit of the stories truth, and not shying away from it or taking the audience on a goose chase.

    Grab it by the cojones
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2016
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  15. Neut
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    Neut New Member

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    Thanks all. A few persons assume convoluted story mean an unorganized or disjointed story, this is not what I mean. I mean an in depth story that delve into the psyche and motivation of characters, a story with multiple plots that inter-relate instead of a single main plot.

    Another thing, how do you all feel about a soap opera like kind of movie? Could it be well received for it story? I feel it would, considering the success of soap operas like Pretty Little Liars or Twilight. What are your views on this?
     
  16. Neut
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    Neut New Member

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    Sorry, there was a typo in my last post. My question is; How do you feel about soap opera like kind of Novel?
     
  17. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Read Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. He explains how to boil an idea down to its essence and then build up from there.

    Paul McCartney was once asked how he wrote such beautiful and complex songs. He said (and I paraphrase) I take away all the complications until it's just a simple song. Then I put in complications where it needs complications.

    It's the same in any art form.
     
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  18. Bandag
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    the short answer is no. A reader should never describe your plot as convoluted. If you write your story well, it will make perfect sense to the reader and they won't even realise how twisted and complex the plot is until they go to recommend it to a friend and realise it can't be summed up easily.
     
  19. jannert
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    Speaking as somebody who enjoys reading long, richly-plotted stories, I'm on the fence with this issue. I don't even mind if good stories spread into two or three volumes. Lord of the Rings. The First Law Trilogy (Joe Abercrombie.) I loved these, and have read them more than once. I do tend to drop off the branch after about three volumes. That's where I stopped reading JK Rowling and George RR Martin ...although of course they are very popular. So I'm not necessarily representative of everybody's viewpoint. But I also have a lifelong habit of reading, and feel I can certainly give my opinion on this.

    Soap operas are not necessarily defined by the melodramatic nature of the story, but rather how it's put together. (Lots of stories are melodramatic, but they are not soaps.) Soap operas (the kind that are advertised as such) are all ongoing stories that involve the same characters for a while, but these characters come and go. There is usually a central setting for a soap and a certain tone that gets maintained, but the subplots are always smaller than the whole and the whole is never totally resolved. They just go on and on. So far, I categorise George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire as a soap. If he ever finishes it, that will change. Just now, though, there seems to be no plot resolution in sight. That's a totally different ball game.

    Have you actually written any of your 'convoluted' story yet? If not, I'd advise you to start. You don't have to start with Chapter One, but do start actually writing a few scenes. I think once you start actually writing, the story will begin to focus itself. Maybe all these 'intersecting' characters you've planned for won't actually be necessary—or you won't need to delve into all of their backstories to the same extent.

    Think about other stories you've read. While most stories have lots of minor characters who are important to the plot, we don't usually get full backstories for all of them. It can become overwhelming, not only for you, the writer, but also for the reader, trying to keep track of complicated storylines for each character. The reader should not have to refer to a family tree or diagram to figure out what's what and who's who. This kind of sense should emerge from the story itself, and slowly enough so each character's story makes an impact and isn't just skimmed over before moving to the next.

    If you're going to take time and care with, say, 30 characters ...yikes. This story is going to become borderline unmanageable ...like George RR Martin has (unfortunately) discovered. But if you limit intense backstory development to, say, only 5 characters, and allow the rest to become minor characters, with only an idea of their general history, the story will be much easier to follow—and to write.

    So why not get started? Write actual scenes. See what you get, what it sounds like, how it reads. Which characters jump out at you as favourites? Which characters do you most want to highlight? Which characters are repetitive, and might be ditched? Which characters only have a small role to play in your plot, and can easily be brought on as needed, but not overly developed? These kinds of things will emerge as you write, and you'll have a clearer idea of how to organise your story.

    Good luck! Believe it or not, in most cases, less IS more. I'd keep that precept in mind.
     
  20. Samurai Jack
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    I mean, I look up the actual word convoluted and the definition I get is very complicated and difficult to understand, having many twists and curves.

    Sounds like calculus. How many people like calculus?

    If you're just talking about multiple viewpoints along a similar theme, everybody will read that.
     
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  21. Toomanypens
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    The flat answer is people PREFER linear stories if they are not sure of the writer and they LIKE complexity when they know the author can deliver.
    So it is a question of credibility not ego, can you genuinely do it justice? If NOT keep it linear because unless it is really good all the way through, complicated stories are a bigger investment on the part of the reader.

    As a writer angling to sell more books I like simple stories because it invites new readers to dabble in my work. Also it helps me write more books on a wider range of concepts and establish a credible baseline from which I can then move on from.

    Take the movie Alien as an example of a simple story, it has 7 characters that all die in sequence to a killing machine, leaving the last survivor (a girl in white panties) to survive by blowing it out the airlock while it is sleeping.
    SUPER SIMPLE and all the mystery comes from just how Alien this thing is; acid blood, gestates in the host, grows incredibly fast, it doesn't just kill you but cucoons you in agony as good as dead. The payoff comes from realising just how terrifying this thing is and just how MUCH you shouldn't let it near earth.

    The story at its heart was a linear and simplistic slasher/monster horror flick in space, but the development of the monster was so intruiging and terrifying that it PAID OFF BIG for viewers. Now at that point it was a one off but after popularity along comes Aliens.

    Aliens was NOT a simple linear story and it wasn't imo a typical horror but was closer to sci-fi action. They establish Ripley as a character with more depth than white panties, showing it wasn't luck she survived, she's tough and can handle herself, but she was that way because of her daughter who as a result of the previous movie dies of old age while she is in cryo.
    The implication is that now Ripley has no purpose to her life and she is haunted by this thing that took her life and power away as a human being (note: this is all new in the sequel and doesn't exist in the first movie).

    Once the character is established she decides to face what she fears. She feels useless at first amidst the colonial marines, but people's arrogance snaps her out of her daze as these marines only chance at survival is her leadership. And after a botched attempt to exterminate a nest of Aliens they must survive as night comes.

    Blame is thrown around because the stakes are so high and the mission was obviously about money and aquiring a creature, nothing more, it was a big lie, just like the first mission, where everyone is a pawn in the eyes of the wayland corporation. The snivelling business guy tries to murder Ripley by releasing facehuggers into the room where she is sleeping with a girl they found.

    A swarm of creatures decends upon them before they can address the issue, and they are forced to flee from the intelligent creautres. They escape through vents but the little girl gets taken. They all make it back to the ship but Ripley arms up with a flamethrower and a rifle strapped together, and she finds the girl before she is facehugged, but in the process of escaping finds the queen. They get into a standoff as Ripley realises she can manipulate the queens orders and emotions by threatening her babies. She WAS just going to leave, but, the queen makes a move on her after their standoff so she torches then and blows her egg laying thing off with grenades and lets the nuclear reactor start blowing up.

    She escapes with the girl, but the Queen is in hot pursuit, and Ripley only bests it by getting in a mech suit and throwing it out into space.

    The point of the story was no longer a horror film about a girl in her underwear, it was a woman who overpowered the queen of the creatures because of love for a child and thereby faces her fears and in the process stops the corporation from bringing it back to earth. She is shown to be a reluctant HEROINE not just a survivor and the movie adds a commentary to the first movie like "you think it was LUCK? Don't be naive!". The movie shows that the aliens are not just a one off thing, but highly intelligent, cooperative and great in number when in contact with enough prey.

    It created an entire sci-fi world in its second incarnation where people were dropped into a heart pounding adventure and rescue storyline against the most dangerous monsters in the galaxy. And by them extending a SIMPLE STORY that was well done the first time, they followed up with one of the best (and most rich in lore) scary movies of all time.

    You have to remember where it started, as a CLICHE', however the twist put on the story gave it the LEGS that enabled everything in the second movie to occur, and after the release of Aliens the first movie Alien changed from a linear horror to a slow developmental PART of the larger arc.

    The point is... Linear and simplistic stories are the perfect BASE for following stories.
    But it doesn't instantaneously work the other way, because if you miss the mark on ANYTHING in the first few books, you will have spent your energy, and the readers attention span and it will decline.

    Even Game of Thrones starts with one simple thread. The Starks are trying to live honest lives in a dishonest kingdom and they pay for it and are forced to become the strength and backbone of the nation or the white walkers and evil doers will destroy the kingdom. At its core it is a story of how children must grow into powerful leaders and influencers. Only once that is established does the story expand and grow.

    The point is why not just START simple and do it well, because people can appreciate it at first as a pop corn treat, and then after loving the thematic elements be moved to see it as a smaller part of a larger story in the second installment.

    From a business perspective I look at simple and well done first parts as both, cheap and expandible if it succeeds, which is EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT. What you do not want is a BRICK, where you have stories without a theme anyone even likes or responds to, which then requires further books to even make sense (which then can't be made because you spent your powder).

    As a writer I believe you really have to discipline yourself to NOT get carried away, you have to keep a clear objective in mind and if it deviates you really have to question the motivation of your choice, because often you are just jumping the gun and prematurely exploring the world.

    Let it be a mystery and let your audience play a role in whether the rest comes out!!!
    That way you get the best of both worlds, good business and a few hits.
    No writer can just make any story a hit, so it helps you out if you start small.

    Of course you can start complex though but it seems to be outside of the norm. And you have to remember there is only so much you can say and do in the first book!!! You gotta make it COUNT.

    So the question then becomes, does this even matter or am I just saying it does?
    And if you are just saying it matters, what credibility do you have? And what proof? So why should anyone make the investment?

    People won't just invest in it like hungry dogs looking for scraps of gold in your work, they will always only ever chew on the bone of your idea IF the first meal was digestible and left them wanting more.


    Oh, btw, Prometheus is the perfect opposite example, a movie that NEEDS a sequel to even make sense. The Engineers were a very interesting concept!!! But they were under developed and we don't really learn anything new except that they were going to infect earth but were stopped by the violence of the weapon they created.
    The point of the story is presumably "don't be so greedy that you finish what they started and bring doom to your doorstep" but its just so convoluted, that nothing makes sense and people's interest SERIOUSLY DECLINED.

    So be careful in assuming people will appreciate poorly explored concepts because of their potential. Etch out the potential, fully, and one step at a time.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2016
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