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  1. Sclavus

    Sclavus Active Member

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    Too Complicated?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Sclavus, Oct 14, 2017.

    I thought of giving y'all the full outline of the conflicts in my story, but decided against it for now. My question is, how do you know when you've got too many conflicts in your story?
     
  2. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I think the point where you lose track of what is going on.
    Or maybe too much going on that you can't feasibly resolve
    it by the end, without it feeling forced and rushed for the sake
    of tying up loose ends.
     
  3. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    There's no such thing as too many conflicts. The only limitation is how many you can incorporate and let the reader make sense of, and that's a question of writing skill. Okay, and how many you can keep track of in your own mind :)
     
  4. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think there is a real formula for that. I'd say go with a two-fold notion:

    One - Don't overcomplicate your story to the extent that your readers can't keep track of what's going on, or get fed up being yanked from one conflict to another and yet another and yet another. Whether you succeed with multiple conflicts and storylines will be down to how well you write and how long your story is. Readers expect more from a long novel or a series of novels than they do from a short one. So you can get away with more characters and more stuff happening if your story is long. However, you also risk the readers losing touch with many of the plot points and characters as well.

    If you get a 'light bulb idea' for yet another conflict or storyline, ask yourself if it will actually contribute significantly to your overall story arc ...or if it might be better saved and used in another story later on?

    Hint: I got fed up with George RR Martin's number of 'conflicts' and characters, back around Book Three. I stopped reading after Book Four. It felt to me as if he had light bulbs going off all over the place, but no overall plan for how to scoop it all together. I'm still not convinced he has, to be honest. Just killing somebody off doesn't quite do the trick for me. The death should be meaningful (like Eddard's was), not just a convenient way to get rid of a character you haven't a clue what to do with.

    Two - Make sure you can wind up each storyline satisfactorily before the end. It works well if they are all closely intertwined with the main conflict. Unless you are writing a soap opera, people expect that the events in the story are leading to an overall conclusion.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2017
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  5. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    This, I think, is also a question of genres. In my own, I intentionally don't resolve a single conflict (apart of the 'main' one), but that's because real life isn't like that. In non-fiction, no book has a conclusion. Maybe my readers will feel cheated or left hanging, but that's for me to find out when I finish, in another year or two :p

    Yes, that was also the reason why I stopped reading. In my case, it was after book two. If there'd be a satisfying conclusion down the line, I might break down and read after all, but so far it doesn't seem like there'll be a conclusion. Mind, GRR writes fantasy, and this genre demands conclusions.
     
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  6. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think what I mean about winding up each storyline isn't that I expect each storyline to have a happy-clappy resolution. I mean I do think you need to deal with it ...even if the fate of the character is left open-ended.

    You don't want your readers thinking, 'But what about good old Bob? He seemed to be an important character, but he was never mentioned again after Chapter 14!"

    This doesn't evoke the vagaries of life, but rather the carelessness of an author, who created a character then just forgot about them. If a character has a significant role to play at the start of the story, and there seems to be some direction their part of the story is taking, I think you owe it to the reader to give them resolution.

    You can give the vanished character a simple mention near the end ...something like:

    "Hey, whatever happened to good old Bob?"
    "I don't know."
    "I bet he went to Mongolia after all."
    "Who knows? He might turn up at your front door tomorrow instead."
    "I'll believe that when I see it."

    However, if you, the author, never mention good old Bob again, that is going to leave a nagging feeling of annoyance in the reader. What happened to Bob?

    Fiction is not real life. Yes, of course in real life people vanish and we forget about them. But we expect different things from a story. That's what story arcs are all about. We don't have 'story arcs' in real life, but stories have them. Refusing to provide closure for something the author started is usually referred to as: too many loose ends left dangling. That doesn't have the same effect as leaving a few open-ended possibilities.
     
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  7. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    That was not what I meant at all :) Of course the reader will know what each character goes off to, what the future may have in store for them. But people come together for a time, and go their separate paths afterwards.

    I agree. Just never mentioning a character again won't work, or starting a conflict and not letting it influence the plot until the plot concludes at the end is not gonna work either.

    However, i.e. taken the hypothetical simple 'plot' of someone having health problems, going off to get a medical appointment and receiving diagnosis: The patient would be talking to different staff members, would maybe get friendly with some of them while having multiple appointments, would form relationships. But when the diagnosis is there (and the plot is resolved, for better or worse), there'd be no further need to talk to these staff members at the hospital—unless the relationships had grown into permanent ones. The author would have wrapped up the story, and the patient and the staff members would go their separate ways.

    I hope that makes sense. I'm not too good with theory :oops:.
     
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  8. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I see what you mean about the medical appointment thing. However, these medical people are simply servicing one area of the plot—the character's health situation—and that area of the plot will be concluded when the patient leaves the hospital. There is no need to mention the people who took her blood pressure or ran the X-Ray machine again.

    If, however, one of those people had their own story going on at the same time—say one of the nurses was being investigated for misconduct, and a colleague mentioned that fact to your main character during the story—then I'd say something needs to be mentioned about how that turned out, even if it doesn't directly affect your character. You start a subplot with the misconduct situation, and just leaving it totally unmentioned afterward will annoy the reader. Readers expect that story subplots which are introduced by the author, will be concluded in some way before the end of the book.

    Again, that doesn't reflect what can happen in real life. Instead, it's about how stories get read and what readers expect to know by the end of the book.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2017
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  9. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    Depends if the 'subplot' impinges on the MC directly.

    If the misconduct was tied in to the care the character received, impinges upon him in a particular way, say, the MC got roped in personally, maybe getting questioned about the care he received while simultaneously being friends with the nurse, then yes, this subplot needs to be resolved. However, if it's a simple question of something going on on the sidelines, then a comment in parting 'Good luck getting your suit settled' would suffice. I've just made this example up out of thin air, and it depends on the particular theme of the story, what the author wants to explore.

    It's a question of scale, to my mind :)
     
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  10. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    A friend of mine who's a cop on the Met always moans about how police novels only have one or two cases to solve at a time .... his workload is significantly higher than that and unless you're on a top level enquiry team the average CID team doesn't specialise (so he'll have a couple of killings, some assaults, rapes, robberies etc not to mention lower grade stuff like burglaries, twoc, fraud etc going on all at once)

    He decided to remedy this by writing a police book which was more true to life ..... he got to about 25k words and binned it because it was totally confusing
     
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  11. David Lee

    David Lee Member

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    That's too bad. Maybe you could talk him into reviving it?
     
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  12. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Three big ones if they're unrelated. Four or five if they dovetail naturally. This assumes it's a "normal" standalone book of about 100k words or so and ignores the smaller gags and throwaways, of which you can have a shitload if they naturally piggyback the larger conflicts.
     
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  13. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. "Good luck getting your suit settled" is the kind of closure that might work for an issue that doesn't actually impact on the main character. Especially if the character's thoughts betray the fact that she doesn't actually care what happens, or will probably never find out what happens, or hopes she'll never encounter any of these people again, and that their problems are not her problems, or something along those lines.

    However, if your beta readers tell you they expected to find out how that suit worked out, then it's a good idea to follow up on what they say.

    What you (the author) have led readers to expect is what counts here. If, when reading the story, the readers expect to find out the outcome of that suit, and you don't give it to them, they will consider the suit to be a loose end left dangling.
     
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