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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Too Stupid to KISS?

   
Author Topic: Too Stupid to KISS?
babooher
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After battling a story for way too long, I finally simplified it and was please with the results. Sent it off, and it got rejected. Since it had been some time between my submission and the rejection, I thought I'd look it over. Again, I saw that I made it overly complicated. I couldn't figure out how to lower the word count, but now I see that my word count was overblown by trying to be so complicated. And I'm not talking complicated as in layers of meaning, textures, etc. I'm talking just complicated plot lines for the sake of complication.

As I've been working on other projects, I've noticed that I tend to want to over complicate things. Maybe because I grew up with the shocking discovery of Skywalker's parentage, but I keep trying to create those moments at the expense of good story telling.

Does anybody else try to over-complicate their plots? Is their a cure for this other than cranium bashing and revisions upon revisions? I guess admitting I have a problem is the first step. Now I'd like to fix it.

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extrinsic
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For short stories I have a simple rule, a self-imposed rule: A plot has one central, focused problem or want wanting satisfaction. Short stories, however, are open to other patterns and sequences than a conventional structure, but they must have a want expressed early on if not immediately in an opening. This way readers have someone to care for and be curious about and for whom to want favorable outcomes for.

Luke Skywalker discovering his parentage is not per se his goal, want, need, or problem wanting satisfaction. The discovery, or revelation in the vernacular, causes problems wanting satisfaction and adds complexity to his want though. The discovery of his parentage is also both an anagnorisis and peripeteia: an abrupt, profound revelation and an abrupt, profound reversal of the true circumstances, respectively.

Anakin discovering Chancellor Palpatine is Darth Sidius is another example of both an anagnorisis and peripeteia. Turns or twists of this nature make for artful, complex plots. Complex plots are not of necessity intricate and convoluted; they are only characterized by artful surprises and upon reflection are inevitable.

The art of misdirection is what makes for complex plots, again, not intricate or convoluted plots. Deploying either an anagnorisis or peripeteia, or both, is most artful and timely when an outcome seems secure, thus timely raising doubt about the outcome.

[ December 18, 2012, 04:53 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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History
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I'm the wrong one to ask.

I prefer stories with complex characters.
The plot may be simple (a love story, a murder mystery, a story of transformation), but the tale will be as long and as "complex" as necessary to bring the protagonist to crisis and resolution in a manner that hopefully makes the reader care and entertains them.

Then again, I've written only one story under 10K this year and sold none (as yet).

I do revise frequently, particularly after a rejection, but mostly sculpting prose. I've only one story I feel is completely where I want it when I re-read it.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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MattLeo
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Complexity in a character is something different than complexity in a plot. When you say a plot is "complicated", you mean a lot of things happen or, perhaps, a lot of things are at stake. A complex character has conflicting priorities -- in fact that's probably a plot driver. He or she may do things that are unexpected, but usually should seem plausible after the fact.

I suppose it is possible to over-complicate a character, to give him too complicated a backstory for example, or too many alliances. But by in large writers tend to err on the side of making characters too simplistic. Having two or three dilemmas to deal with qualifies a fictional character as "complex", but it's not very much to keep track of.

One way to have more stuff happen (at least in novels) without the plot becoming impossible to follow is to have subplots. Having a certain number of events distributed across several subplots is easy to follow than putting the same number of twists into a single plot line, because each subplot is largely self-contained and can be followed separately. It's just like the way three seven digit phone numbers would be easier to memorize than a single twenty-one digit number.

One writer who writes complex plots and simple characters is Dan Brown -- at least the books of his that I've read. He moves the reader through a story by frequent plot twists and scene changes -- roughly one every two pages or so. He literally writes "page turners". What makes his plots possible to follow is that after a dozen or more plot twists the territory the plot has covered so far, and that which it will traverse later, becomes unimportant. It's writing for short attention spans; what matters is what's on the next page.

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extrinsic
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I don't know about Dan Brown's novels being for short attention spans. His plotting follows my basic rule of one central dramatic complication. Each scene has a subplot complication, yes, but each nonetheless addresses the central dramatic complication, with goal setbacks and progresses all the while. Some surprise turns too. Alas, another popularly acclaimed, successful writer who struggling writers deprecate because he's not their cup of Java-latte joe. Unfavorable criticisms of accomplished writers give me pause. What's up with that? Me? I ask and answer why Brown appeals to who he appeals to. Everything else to me is gravy or grit.

Short story examples that illustrate Aristotle's definition of a complex plot, containing either an anagnorisis or peripeteia, or both, include O Henry's "Gift of the Magi" and Roald Dahl's "Man from the South." Both available online. I strongly encourage writers to dissect them and other stories for identifying their minor and major turns, and for their surprises.

I used to read mostly conflict-resolution stories, about nine out of ten. They got old from telegraphing their endings. Now I read about one to one conflict resolution to other and am more satisfyingly entertained for it.

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Grumpy old guy
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I tend to have one 'problem' that needs to be resolved. The 'story' may weave and wander around that central core, but it keeps getting forced back onto that line by circumstances -- call them the forces of inevitability. If they didn't, there wouldn't be a story.

I find the idea of sub-plots annoying, and yet I'm sure that I have inadvertently introduced 'mini' sub-plots simply by adding depth to some of the story's supporting characters. They have a 'life' in the story, and so they interact with their own agenda's (premise).

I always try to hide the outcome and deliberately kill off an important character near the end so that the reader isn't certain that the antagonist will survive. The element of doubt adds tension. And for the ending? I prefer a resolution no one expects. Nice if you can come up with one, but damn hard to plan for.

Phil.

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genevive42
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My short stories always want to end up more complex and then I end up with novelettes. On the other hand, my boyfriend is great at ideas that can remain short (don't know how he does it) and I often use seeds he provides when I have to keep the word count down. But really, I'm a novelist at heart and I suppose that might be your issue, too.

For shorts, try to keep the idea to one or two problems. If the idea starts demanding more, try shrinking the scale to a character that might seem too small but is greatly affected by the problem.

Just some thoughts.

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pdblake
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I tend to keep multi plot lines for novels, shorts have a single thread usually, and normally a single POV character.
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MattLeo
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Don't get me wrong, extrinsic. I don't write Dan Brown's popularity off to silly explanations like "his fans are stupid" or "it's all just marketing". Brown has earned his popularity through his peculiar mastery of plotting and pacing. Even I ripped my way through *The DaVinci Code*, although when I finished I felt like I'd just downed the literary equivalent of family sized bag of Cheetos and a two liter orange soda.

I generally don't expect a story to be perfect; if it has merits I usually note its shortcomings and let them pass. But there comes a point where the shortcomings are so overwhelming that even outlandish accomplishments in one area can't compensate.

I think Brown is *too* dependent on his pacing because his research is careless claptrap, his characters are cardboard wish fulfillment objects, and his writing is pretentious while being intellectually unambitious *to a fault*. And then there is his prose style, which is mercifully easy to ignore at the pace most people read a Dan Brown story. Here is the opening of *The DaVinci Code*. Spend a few quality seconds with it:

quote:
Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.
I feel free criticizing this as a bad piece of writing, and I'll tell you what's up with that: Dan Brown is worthy of emulation in some areas (pacing) but not others (prose style, characterization, theme).

The critical strength and weaknesses of a writer are reasonable topics of conversation. Where people go off the rails into ad hominem or *uncritical* arguments that amount to "I don't like his writing, therefore he can do nothing right." I can point out that Stephenie Meyer's dialog is fingernails-on-the-chalkboard bad while appreciating her ability to build a milieu that is compelling to her readership. I think Meyer is a gifted writer, but I don't like her writing and I think it has technical faults which can be discussed dispassionately.

Anyhow, I seem to remember someone here having some choice words about Dean Wesley Smith's choice of vocation. I don't criticize DWS for his choice of career, I only consider that a factor in weighing the applicability of his career advice.

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extrinsic
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I enjoy a mixed diet, a meal of Cheetos and orange soda every once in a while, along with equally tasty though nutritious meals here and there. I can't thrive on a exclusive diet of either.

quote:
By MattLeo;
I seem to remember someone here having some choice words about Dean Wesley Smith's choice of vocation.

Not so choice words in the sense you imply. Rather, questioning career choices and suggesting similar paths have led to career declines. And tu quoque argumentation is no more logical than ad hominem argumentation. Both are logical fallacies often deployed to deflect focus from a central topic. Logical meaning pertaining to discernible causation.

From Webster's;
Ad hominem: to the person; "appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect; marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made"

Tu quoque: you too; "a retort charging an adversary with being or doing what he criticizes in others"

quote:
By MattLeo:
"I don't like his writing, therefore he can do nothing right."

Is a cum hoc; ergo, propter hoc fallacy. With this; therefore, because of this.
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MattLeo
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extrinsic, you do not need to lecture me on logical fallacies. I know what to quoque means, it's a fallacy of a distraction -- as is, in most cases, lecturing people on logical fallacies. That is simply meant to distract from the meat of the debate, if not to shut down debate entirely.

I am not engaging in tu quoque here because what I did was in fact different; I made a substantive critique of Brown's style, you criticized Dean Wesley Smith's career choice. I brought it up to point out that you are taking an untenable position here -- unless you think that some people are allowed to express opinions that are critical of writers and others are not. I trust I don't have to explain "special pleading" or "double standard" to you.

I'm all for condemning thoughtless and over-general condemnation of writers based on irrelevant factors or purely personal preferences. I'm not for condemning all criticism of writer's works. A criticism, even a harsh one, is not tantamount to a blanket condemnation. I have at times even expressed critical opinions of my favorite writers, and I intend to continue doing so.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Perhaps extrinsic was explaining logical fallacies to others who might be following this discussion?
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Perhaps extrinsic was explaining logical fallacies to others who might be following this discussion?

That was my intent. Perhaps I should have directly stated that.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Perhaps extrinsic was explaining logical fallacies to others who might be following this discussion?

If so, what was the occasion of the explanation?

I find the injection of fallacy terminology into discussions to be unproductive. The reason is that it's easy to spuriously identify the *form* of the fallacy when the substance is not there. This kind of argument by labeling shuts down the conversation or shunts it in irrelevant directions. For that reason I'd often call an appeal to logical fallacy a fallacy of distraction itself.

Ad hominem is a common fallacy; however it is often called in cases where it does not apply because the identity of a source for a statement is often relevant. It makes a difference whether the opinion about the pain in your chest comes from an auto mechanic or a cardiologist.

Tu quoque is also liable to abuse. There are cases where citing an arguers behavior is a distraction, and others in which it is relevant. If John accuses me of stealing and I say, "Well you steal all the time," it's a distraction because we all agree stealing is bad and it has no bearing on whether I stole anything. However if he accuses me of using the company computer to send a personal email, and my position is that sending an occasional personal email is a normal and acceptable practice, I can certainly cite his *own* use of company computers as support of that. It has relevance to the assertion that the behavior is normal, but not to the assertion that the behavior should be excused *just for me*.

I have never yet seen one of these exercises in amateur logical forensics lead to any useful conclusion.

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extrinsic
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Perhaps I shouldn't even have engaged in a discussion where an uncompromising opinion is the one true and right one worthy of expression.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Perhaps I shouldn't even have engaged in a discussion where an uncompromising opinion is the one true and right one worthy of expression.

Please don't do that, I enjoy your contributions here. ;-)
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