1. Daydream
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    Daydream New Member Contributor

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    What makes a complex plot?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Daydream, Jun 21, 2011.

    Hey! I asked some of my friends what they thought made a good story. A few said they like mysterious and complex plots. I guess a good example of this would be A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R Martin, who seems to be able to keep the reader constantly guessing as to what will happen. I also agree with this, it makes the reader want to keep reading. So anyway I'm currently about to start my first sci-fi novel, or novel for that matter. What im worried about is that my plot will be weak and predictable. So I wanted to ask what you all think makes a good complex and mysterious plot.

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  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I don't think complex and mysterious are necessarily the same. The key to complexity in plots comes from the motivations of characters. In a simple plot, for instance, you might have two opposing figures with opposing goals, a typical hero/villain formulation. You can make things more complex by creating more complex motivations, as well as by bringing in other characters with similarly diverse motivations and goals, as well as different (and perhaps conflicting) personalities and viewpoints. George Martin is a good example of this; you can rarely characterise figures in his novels as good or evil, and it's also rare that any two characters are simply opposites of each other. Instead, there is a complex web of agendas and motivations that creates a deep, involving plot. Don't get hung up on the story, focus instead on these kinds of complex relationships between characters and a rich, tense, complex story will emerge.
  3. Frog
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    Frog New Member

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    So, to be a jerk and not really answer your question at all, I think character complexity is more important than plot complexity. I once did an exercise where I wrote a whole bunch of names on random places on a sheet of paper, then begin to draw "relationship lines" between them... marriage, brothers, business partners, lovers, et cetera. What resulted was a VERY complex plot, but one with very little depth.

    Character complexity results, I think, from realizing that people can have two conflicting motivations at the same time. IE, wanting to rescue a friend but NOT wanting to die, wanting to get the girl's attention but NOT wanting to claim the glory.

    I usually make my plots more 'mysterious' by using what I call "plants;" putting in something that seems pretty commonplace at the time, yet significant enough that the reader will remember it later when you bring it back up again. Hard to describe. In my opinion, J.K. Rowling and Brandon Sanderson are both masters of the plant. SPOILER ALERT! An example of Rowling's Plants would be in the Goblet of Fire, when she specifically mentions the flask that "Moody" drinks from. In hindsight, it seems obvious that it would be filled with Polyjuice Potion, but it never occurs to us at the time.
    In his novel Mistborn, Sanderson mentions the earring that Vin wears rather often, but the full import of it doesn't occur to us until it's almost time to reveal it anyway.
    Another terrific example of plants is The Sixth Sense. SOOOO many hints that the psychologist is already deceased, and yet we just don't get it until the very end.

    Hope that helped.
  4. WriterDude
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    WriterDude New Member Contributor

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    The short version: Imagine if five people are walking from point A to point B. They all start at the same place at the same time, but all of them take frequent detours from the main path and set off on their own. In fact, none of them bother to follow the main road, and sometimes they even go backwards or seem to come to a complete stop. Even so, they all end up at their destination together in the end.
  5. Protar
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    Yeah I agree that plants can be used to add complexity to the plot plot, but I call them Chekhov's guns. Also once you've gained a reputation for them you can put in some good red herrings.

    Another thing is create new conflicts and villains that come seemingly out of the blue. However when the reader looks deeper they should make sense. Real life conflicts are rarely just with two sides and I think it should be the same in fiction.
  6. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Member

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    Making a story good isn't about making it complex. Complex plots often become frustrating and confusing, and that's not what you're going for. You want a solid, well-thought-out plot, and you want to write it well. Solid, but not too complicated. Doesn't have to be TOO simple, of course. But you want good writing and complex characters.
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Distinguish between complexity and depth.

    Depth is what draws readers in. Complexity in itself only confuses.
  8. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan New Member

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    I agree with Frog that focusing on character is more important than plot, although that could just be my personal preference.

    Ultimately, what makes a good story - or at least one that readers have a better chance of liking or being engrossed in - are simply those that catch their attention, draw them in, and want them to keep reading. This can be achieved in many ways - having characters who the reader sympathizes with, having a storyline where the reader wants to see justice done to the villain, etc. etc. - but it all boils down to making sure that the reader doesn't get bored.
  9. GH Pots
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    GH Pots New Member

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    I think if, at this stage, you think your plot will be"...weak and predictable", it probably will. This says nothing about your abilty to write. This just comments on the current plot you are thinking of. If you are not excited about it your readers probably won't be either. That, again, does not say it is not a good plot. A different approach may be necessary. A surprise hidden somewhere in your writing might be a spark that makes you write "... this is going to be on FIRE!!!" GH
  10. polarboy
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    polarboy New Member

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    I'd say that a complicated plot has layers of interdendencies--with different layers of events taking place throughout the story. This can work when 1) the intricacies serves a logical purpose within the context of the story--there's an ultimate method to the madness, 2) information introduced at the beginning and at the end of the story are in sync, 3) a careful reader is able to keep track of what is going on, and 4) the plotline still makes sense (even more sense) when deconstructed at the end of the story--providing an intellectual and emotional payoff to the reader.
  11. ink_slinger
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    ink_slinger New Member

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    I think that the "mystery" part is interesting. As a rule, I avoid reading "mystery" genre novels (the Dick Tracy or Agatha Christie types annoy me), but when you really stop to think about it, almost every book in the world has an element of mystery. The mystery is what keeps you reading.

    Take Harry Potter, for instance. These are widely considered fantasy books, children's books, but few would call them straight-up mystery. Still, there are definitely elements of mystery. Ms. Rowling drops hints, and her books always have one huge, mysterious question (What is the Sorcerer's Stone? Why is it important? Will Harry find it before "Snape"?)

    Next time you're reading a book, stop and think about the big questions you want answered. Those questions keep you reading. The author keeps information from you, holding it in front of you like a carrot on a stick. It's a delicate balance, but I think that is one of the single most important things to consider when writing a book. I actually just rewrote the beginning of my latest project, because it gave away too much.

    Anyway, that's my two cents. I hope it was helpful.
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