Tuesday, May 21, 2019

How Complicated Is The Plot: Depends On Word Count

Oh, dear readers, complicated plots are my jam...and often jam me up. I love them. Simple storylines aren't fun for me to write. I don't believe characters live one-dimensional single-thread lives, so the plots cannot, by definition of having "well-rounded characters," be simple. And yet, feedback on my early works was often "this is too complicated."

~record scratch~

Wait. Wut? There's such a thing as too complicated?  Alas, yes. Yes, if you've: a) tried to pack too much in too short a work; b) haven't properly led the reader through the maze you've created; c) withheld crucial information in a mistaken attempt to create mystery.

Complicated plots and short stories aren't impossible, but they take a real master of the craft to pull off that combo well. Last week we talked about leveling up; penning a well-executed complex short would be my "11." Now, give me 250k words and I can spin some hairy scary complicated stuff. With that kind of word count, it's only natural that I'd find my favorite genre is fantasy, right? My high fantasy stuff is infinitely more complicated than my urban fantasy stuff because of word count. In high fantasy, I have the room to guide the readers along many paths, gotchas, and oh-no-they-didn't's. In UF, I have less than half that; at 90k I have to pare back the options and challenges my protag faces in order to keep the reader's head from exploding.

Knowing how much information to include/reveal and when is what separates the novices from the masters. Too often, we authors think we're being tricksy, sneaky, or slick by hiding information from the reader to make the Big Reveal surprising. Too often, we're just annoying the reader because what we're leaving out are the frickin' clues necessary to move to the next stage of the story. Not our best moments. Hopefully, our CPs and editors catch those "insert vital info here" gaffs before the book goes to press.

None of this is to say that I always strike the right balance of complications to chapters. It's a point of continual improvement for me--I always want to do more--but I've learned that it's better to remove a plot thread than to lose the reader.

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