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  1. #1
    Senior Member
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    When Is A Plot Too Complex?

    Does anybody have any thoughts on when a plot becomes too complicated?? I have a central plot for my MC with twists and subplots involving other characters to keep the tension going through the story. But I'm wondering if I'm making things too complex. The twists are believable and fit into the main plot. How do experienced writers know when or if things are getting too complicated in a novel? Is it intuitive, just a gut feel kind of thing?

  2. #2
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    If I have to start keeping notes, I know it's too complex. Often I throw in characters who are with me the throughout every draft, and then, in the last draft I perform a mass execution, which of course means revising all over again. As for subplots, sometimes I realize myself that I'm only cluttering up the story; other times it takes a beta reader to ask me wth I think I'm doing. Also, if I know I've gone insanely overboard with the word count (which I always do the few several drafts) I look at each plot point and decide how badly that storyline is needed. If the subplot does nothing to move the story forward, I'd advise you to cut it

  3. #3
    James North
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    I’m not sure there is any pat answer for that question. Just always keep in mind that every word should add something to the reader’s experience. Anything unnecessary should be cut. If that goes for words and sentences, it certainly goes for subplots. If your story is more plot driven than character driven, then a few more twists and turns and subplots might add to the story. Mysteries need a few dead end clues and miscues committed by the protagonist (the detective or whatever) thrown in to make it more difficult for readers to deduce what’s coming up too early in the game. One probably overused trick is to provide hints a character or two just might be the culprit and then a new clue is revealed at the climax, exposing a character readers would never have suspected. A good example of this is the movie Off Limits, staring Willem Dafoe. No one could suspect the character who turns out to be the killer of Vietnamese prostitutes until the very end. Viewers are led to believe it’s first one colonel and then another. It turns out to be a noncom very close to the investigators.

    Faulkner wrote characters’ names and their relation to an extended family, character traits, etc on the wall of a room in his home to keep track of a particularly complicated story. I think it was his The Sound and the Fury.
    Last edited by James North; 05-09-2011 at 10:47 AM. Reason: Stupid mistake.

  4. #4
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    I know it was just an innocent typo, James, but "The Sound and the Furry" gave me a good chuckle. That Faulkner, what a deviant.

  5. #5
    James North
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    My face is red, but it’s not the first time.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Frank Baron's Avatar
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    This is a situation which cries out for the kindness of your trusted beta readers. If they don't specifically complain about complexity, ask leading questions like: Did they find themselves flipping back and forth to refresh their memories of names/dates/situations? If the answer is "no" and they kept turning pages to the end, you can probably safely relax on the complexity issue.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Avonne Writer's Avatar
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    As a reader, I really love a complicated plot line. As long as the author eventually ties everything together. One thing I can't stand is when a certain point is brought up, then never addressed again. (I should be a beta reader...I catch those types of mistakes all the time in books)

    Best of luck.

    Like Jena said though, if you are asked to revise and edit then you are SOL. Because then you have to go fix all that sheet!

  8. #8
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    Don't know, Julie. I want my plots and characters and themes to be simple, but they just won't do it. I keep having to come up with ways to be a better writer so that all the complexity doesn't seem that complex. It's awful. I hate it. I just want to stick with what my simple mind initially envisions. But it always all goes to hell. My gut always tells me the complexity is good but that I'm an idiot to consider complexity complex. Like, if I was good enough, complex would be simple. So then I have to struggle to make the next layer of complexity feel simple. Oops, then idiot husband or friend says, "Oh, you're saying..." some such thing I didn't mean to say but realize opens up another layer I'd rather not be involved with, but have to be, since it was rubbed in my face.

    It's terrible. I hate having to write stuff that's beyond me.

  9. #9
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    Thanks to everybody for their valuable insights. Jena - good advice on the notes. James - thanks for the reminder that it's about the reader's experience and I loved Johns' comment about the "furry". Frank, good, solid point on the beta readers. Avonne - ah- complexity that is tied together in a way that's credible and interesting is the key. And CK - Sounds like your stuff is a unique combination of plot and character. My characters are willful and misbehaving too - maybe they're related to yours. Time to take my MC out for a thrashing.

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