1. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Too much plot can sink the ship

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by jannert, Mar 15, 2016.

    I just received this list of tips, published in the Brian Klems blog connected to Writers' Digest. I think it makes some excellent points. Too many subplots, too many characters all trying to do too many things—not only can it swamp the reader and make it difficult to follow the story, but it can create situations where vital things get dropped or forgotten by the writer as well.

    It can also sometimes be behind the notion (I see a lot on this forum) that every story must be turned into a huge series. I do wish George RR Martin had read this article before he embarked on his endless cruise. I think his work would have been much more effective if he'd reined in his tendency to create too much plot.

    Worth a read.

    http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/too-much-of-a-good-thing-dont-sink-a-story-with-too-much-plot?utm_source=wir&utm_campaign=wds-bak-bl-160315&utm_content=827853_WDE160315&utm_medium=email
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    8. GO DEEP INSTEAD OF WIDE

    Rather than building in more story, build more into the story you have. Explore setting and scene and the relationships between the characters in more revealing detail. Enliven those relationships with a few lines of enhancing dialogue. Readers will feel not only included, but empathetic, even enthralled – that irreplaceable sensation of being “in on it.”

    ------------------------------------

    Not exactly the way I want to word my sentiment, but close enough to serve as my segue. I think sometimes that "kitchen sinking it" is also a way for the writer to seem like s/he is letting me know about the characters without actually letting me know about the characters. All these little factoids and happenstances about a person aren't necessarily the person him/herself.

    I recently read the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. The plot wasn't complex at all, and this over three books, but the depths he travailed in getting me to know each person was wonderful.

    If you're kitchen sinking it, I would ask you to ask yourself if you really have a good understanding of other people, or are you just adding all this in to hide the fact that you don't really grok how others work. The answer may be one or the other, but I think it's worth asking.
     
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  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Not read the article yet but will do after this post :) This thread just reminded me of something I realised the other day.

    Maybe the reason why I cannot plot is because I always start with the backstories and background first. I get all these nice little abstract mysteries and world-building set up, and then realise my story bits don't fit into it. So I keep changing things - but I'm always trying to make sense of the story through my world-building and in-world logic, which inevitably means something else doesn't fit. Basically, instead of measuring paper and then wrapping the box, I've been trying to make the box fit the paper.

    So I'm gonna try to do it the other way. Think of a series of awesome events - and then fit world-building around that to make sense of it :supercheeky:

    Now it's just a matter of sitting down and doing that, but it seems I have so much other stuff to do... :dead:
     
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  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There's surely a word missing in this sentence... :superthink: What on earth do you mean...?
     
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  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Read the article. Kitchen sinking it is a single verb phrase. ;)


    ....
    It can happen to anybody. The yearning to add just one more thing is a powerful flame. Nearly all the writers who do secretly know they’re guilty, and they’re ready to spring to the defense, like my pal. Writers who over-plot their stories (in the trade, this is sometimes called “kitchen sinking it,”) can get nearly frantic describing those stories, their voices growing louder and more intense...
     
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  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Reminds me of co-author a little... I remember I stopped reading her book 70% into it because she went and introduced yet another character. Her "standalone" novels almost always turn into strings of multi-book series upon being edited. It's why I was terrified of getting too in depth into the editing for our collab. I'm the sort who leaves the work alone when it is finished. If it is finished, it's finished. I don't touch it again. I move on. She, not so much... :nosleep: And I didn't want to end up with another never-ending novel - I already have one of my own that I can never seem to finish!!
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm beginning to really trust your book recommendations. I think it was you who recommended Mission Child by Maureen McHugh on another thread. It intrigued me, so I scrounged up a copy (which isn't easy, as it appears to be out of print and wasn't available on Kindle). It was excellent.

    I just checked out Southern Reach and read the entire excerpt on Amazon, and was dumped that there wasn't more. That feels like a win to me as well. So I'm off to order my Kindle copy. It may be a while before I get to reading it, but it looks like my kind of Sci-Fi.
     
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  8. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    This reminds me of why I stopped reading the Safehold series. It's about an international conflict, and each time a major event happens in the conflict, it shows how each leader, advisor, operative, etc. reacts to the event and plans their next move. With so much time spent thinking about what to do, two hundred pages can pass before another character actually does something and moves the plot forward again. The story would move a lot faster if the author allowed readers to assume that characters not shown "onscreen" continued to have brains and make plans with them.
     
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  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's like watching Naruto in anime!! Or Dragonball!
     
  10. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    Well put.

    I think this happens a lot, sort of 'hiding behind window dressing' and maybe the writer himself doesn't even realize that this is what he's doing.

    Reminds me of a painting student of mine years ago. He learned a few figurative techniques rather quickly and was eager to jump into a big project, but he brought me sketches for a painting but he had the person in the sketch with long hair hanging down covering the face. (it was a super-hero type painting) I said, "Why is the face covered?" He gave me a long explanation about how the hero had been battling for hours and was tired and this pose was from a moment when he turned so quickly that his hair flopped around and fell in his face, and the painting was meant to be like a live action freeze-frame of this dramatic 'hair flopping moment' (honest this is what he told me).

    Of course I knew the truth was that this student lacked confidence rendering human faces so this was his way of avoiding tackling something he was uncomfortable with.

    Maybe some writers think pumping in more detail will distract readers from noticing the work is weak in "heart."


    One more thing. I remember when I read "Duanne's Depressed" by Larry McMurtry, I thought it was fascinating that Larry could make such a riveting novel out of an elderly man wandering around his town on foot with no aims or huge mission to tackle.

    :superthink:
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2016
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  11. Toomanypens
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    Toomanypens Member

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    I definately agree with Tea

    I think it is a struggle to really condense your story down
    Let's be honest, it becomes a nightmare when you start off with too many moving parts
    You end up either killing the parts too soon, or meandering on and around the point

    My current story was meant to be amazingly simple, one time traveller
    But then I add a backstory
    An enemy (and complexity in that heirarchy)
    And all of a sudden it is insanely complex :p

    It is definately "a thing" that you need to start as simple as you can
     
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  12. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    It was indeed. Thanks for posting it.

    Having read it, I've got this horrible sinking sensation that I'm guilty as charged. I have tendency not to edit until a draft is done, which has served me well when writing short stories, but now that I'm tackling my first novel, I find that I often get lost in the woods planting trees and forget how big the forest is getting.

    I'm going to read this. Ta for the tip. I haven't read an sci-fi for ages (and the last one I did — almost two years ago now — was Dune, funnily enough).
     
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  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It doesn't really matter when you edit. What matters is what you see when you do edit. If you can't see the forest, then you probably need to give yourself some distance on the project and/or enlist the help of a few good betas. Tell them you're concerned that you've included too much plot, and ask them to keep an eye out for places in the story where this might have occurred.
     
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  14. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    I'm ruthless when I edit. That's not really the problem. The problem is the on-the-fly editor, not the after-the-fact one. I used to be a documentary film editor, where my job involved creating a narrative out of material generated by someone else. The issue I have with writing is that it's me generating the material that I will then edit, and I'm currently finding that I'm generating too much. That's the thing I need to practice.

    I certainly will, yes.

    Thanks for the advice. :)
     
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  15. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    OK so allow me to ponder aloud here, though I am staying vague for a reason.

    I'm having trouble writing a synopsis because my story has some very complex elements. But overall, they tie together with many parallels.

    An egalitarian society and a class divided society with culture shock as characters from each encounter the other's culture.
    Some characters are privileged by being born rich; a free person who escapes slavery feels survivors guilt because she's privileged by her birth to get away.
    Generational conflict that plays out differently but in both cases the young people want to change their respective worlds.
    Beliefs adopted by people in each society contradict other groups' version of reality: in the village belief is influenced by who you side with; in the city belief is influenced by the pervasive media but in the same way, the group you identify with and which reality you believe are tied together in a similar way.

    And within all this are trust issues and what makes a person one's true love (very important because I'm rebelling against the made for each other fantasy).

    So, are there too many kitchen sinks here, or is it just a very complex story that is bound to be a runaway best seller? :p
     
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, your story sounds fascinating and well thought-out (and just complex enough.) But damn. Trying to write a synopsis of your own story? That is really hard. Certainly it is for me.

    For a query letter, can you come up with one central theme? The love/trust issue isn't one I can comment on because I don't know what happens there, but would you say your central theme is culture shock?

    If you can identify the central theme, then writing query blurb will be a lot easier. As for a synopsis? It's basically the whole story told in a few paragraphs, so while you leave out all the showing, you just 'tell' what happened as economically as possible.

    Apparently it helps to practice writing a synopsis of other stories you've read. Somehow once you get the idea of what to emphasize in somebody else's synopsis, it's easier to write your own.
     
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  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's interesting. So you are used to taking diverse elements and creating a 'story' or a flow for them? Presumably what you've been given to work with is more or less it ...you can't go back and get other things filmed to fill in the story? Lord. That's a tricky job you had there—but very useful to a writer. You certainly understand what makes a story work.

    I presume that if you were given 'too much' filmed material this would have made your job easier, not harder? As long as you could discard anything you wanted to? You'd have had a lot of good stuff to pick from.

    If that's the case, I'd say generating 'too much' as a writer is probably good. It would be daunting if you didn't know how to edit, but you do. And you also know what makes a story flow. So ...the more material you have to work with, the better?
     
  18. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think you're right @jannert but I can't pin it down. I'm so sure of this story, I'm so certain it matters to write it, but what is the key element, I don't know how to summarize it.

    Maybe that's the problem, is it the complex social issues or the love story? Is that too much to put in one novel? Gone with the Wind (no way am I comparing my book to that) had a love story amidst the great social events of the time. So how would you describe that story? It was about Scarlet's inner conflicts. Maybe I should consider how that story would be described?
     
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  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm going to go with this:

    The love story and what makes a real true love remains an important part of the story, but the main theme needs to focus on Brin’s inner conflict.

    I love this forum. :D I'm going to put it in my "thanks to" along with my son and the leader of my critique group because he taught me how to write.
     
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  20. Indefatigable Id
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    I fell in love with the original Robocop because the plot flowed so smoothly that I could watch it over and over without really getting bored. Then I found this video. The movie flows so rhythmically, it's basically a song. So, a group of guys turned it into a song.

    Plot, in my understanding is supposed to help a writer to plan out the delivery of content to the reader in a way that is familiar, not too fast, not too slow. Don't overload them with names to remember, but don't bore them by going in circles, the train only moves forward... there's a speed to it. Something happens, then something else happens, boom boom boom. Everything is relevant to the story, if its not relevant, it gets cut.

    I think if you start sub-plotting into oblivion, that's not really plotting anymore. Plot implies direction. A spiderweb of interlinking stories that don't have anything to do with the central conflict is basically the same as not even using a plot and just writing whatever.
     
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  21. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I think there's a strong potential in me to do this. Not because I'm afraid of doing character. But just because I love doing complex stories and casts, and the thing @Mckk mentioned with everything being mult-book series, that's definitely how I think. I just don't want to leave it at one book! :-DHowever, I haven't actually finished a whole book yet! :-D:bigoops::whistle: I definitely am always trying to limit myself to particular things and just get that done. With my ADHD and all, it's something I should be particularly careful with. In theory. I'd need to have more self-control.:whistle::whistle:
    Working on it.
     
  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I think GW the W is a good book to consider in this light. This was NOT a book about the American Civil War, but the war provided the setting for Scarlett's life. If you were writing a synopsis of that book, you would concentrate on Scarlett's character through the various phases of that war, finishing with her self-realisation which came too late.

    Scarlett figured in nearly every scene in that book. The story didn't take us onto the battlefields or into the rooms where military decisions got made. It was the war seen through her eyes, and concentrated on the changes to her life that were brought on by the war.

    GW the W is a story about Scarlett's life, not a history of the war.

    If your story is similar, and the 'love/trust' issue is the core of your story, played out against the backdrop of a culture shock, then that's what you should focus on when you write your query/synopsis.
     
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  23. Inks
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    The only thing I have to add is to not add new plot points haphazardly - I just finished reading a decent work that decided to tie the MCs origins in with to the plot with three little lines that ruined the climax and the entirety. How? Tying everyone together in an impossible timeline-defying way and breaking the rules of the setting to do so. Don't mess with time and space for the purposes of "more plot".

    I can overlook many mistakes on the fringe, but don't get me 80% through a book and suddenly decide to tie up loose ends like that. It was obvious that it didn't belong and should never have been there, but it was a smack in the face. Funny, I can think of a few other works that did this and tried to justify it with yet more plot.
     
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  24. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Boy, you've hit on a topic that really concerns me.

    There is so much emphasis these days on 'hooking' a reader/agent with a flawlessly-constructed start to a story—but man. If the ending is disappointing, folks will never read another of your books again, no matter how great the beginning was.

    I think a LOT more time should get spent on learning to avoid the mistake you've just highlighted. Starting plotlines is fine, but they must be tied together at the end in a believable AND satisfying way.

    It's tricky to pull off, because you don't want the end to be predictible either. You want to similtaneously draw the reader in and through the story, sowing seeds of worry and expectation right and left ...but then you also want to surprise them a bit at the end. You do want them to go away wearing big smiles, though. You definitely don't want to leave them with the 'smack in the face' you described.

    I'd say spend as much time and effort crafting the end of your story as you do the beginning. Don't just get lazy and use the deus ex machina ending (some unforseen coincidence sorts it all out) or the and with a bound, Jack was free ending that makes difficult plot issues resolve themselves too easily. Both kinds of endings will disappoint your readers.

    Instead, the story's end should flow naturally from the beginning, using all the clues, character development and plot points you've set up. The ending should have enough weight to counterbalance the rest of your story. Don't rush an ending. Endings are the strongest impressions you will leave with your readers, and you want these impressions to be good.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2016
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  25. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    I can already hear HBO knocking on your door to buy the TV rights. :)

    I agree with @jannert:
    I think you need to concentrate on summering the MCs experiences. They are the story. And the theme should be the biggest lesson learned by your MC (or the lesson they failed to learn, depending on the type of story you're telling).

    On a different note, @jannert said,
    I once worked on a series about climbing Everest. There were a bunch of climbers with head cameras making a summit attempt, and between them they generated hours and hours of footage. That material was pre-edited by an editor working at base camp (not me, unfortunately). The pre-edited material was then flown home and cut into six episode by a team of editors (of whom I was one). The point is, given the practicalities of time and budget, it would have been impractical to have one editor cut all the material — that editor would have been working for years (not very practical in a world of deadlines, budgetary constraints and broadcast schedules).

    So, there is a limit to the amount of material one film editor would want to work with (that team of editors I mentioned above — we also had two assistant editors each), and we also had the creative input of the episode directors and the series producer and the series executive producer at every step of the way.

    On the other hand, writing is terribly solitary, and it's a world away from the team process that I've described above. I could just write and write and write until the well ran dry and then sit back and edit. But it's not practical if I ever want to get published. There aren't enough years left in my life (and I'm not so old).

    Quentin Crisp once said (to paraphrase), 'If you have complete freedom to do anything, you must make chains for yourself'.

    I have made chains for myself regarding the length of my novel, the genre it fits in and the time in which I wish to write it. I feel that if I don't approach it with a professional mindset, I will never stand a chance of being a published writer.

    Ramble, ramble, ramble.

    OK, I'll stop now.
     
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