Thursday, July 14, 2016

Don't Over-Complicate Your Story

When I listen to pitches or read initial submissions, I really take a lot of time to listen to the plot. I want to see how the writer gets their characters into tight situations and then gets them out of those places. I also want to see how the writers have developed a plot to sustain the reader through all of those pages. This should be relatively easy because, when an author has done this well, the story flows along nicely and the characters and events in the story come across as authentic.

Too often, however, writers simply make the story or the situations too complicated. Now don't get me wrong. I am not someone who shies away from a tough story with intricate plot twists and characters, but, if it is not necessary for the story or the character development, then why work it in. For you see, when an author does this, the time necessary to get the characters out of that tight jam end up sucking up valuable word count space that can be used for better things.

So, where do we see this a lot. Let me provide a few for you. Most, you will notice, revolve around the characters and story's Goals, Motivations and Conflicts.

TOO MUCH DRAMA IN THE BACK STORY - I have written about this one in the past. Much of this issue comes from a lot of critique partners telling writers what to do. In this case, the writer has developed a character with a particular characteristic. To "justify" the behaviors, the author turns around and creates this elaborate back story to tell us why the character is behaving that way.

For example, a heroine doesn't want to get married right now, so instead of simply saying she isn't ready at this time in her life, the writer has her with a story of being involved with a guy in college who was abusive. Now we have to work through all of that psychological drama in the past, AS WELL AS, getting them through the current issues.

Guess what? She can just not be ready. She is focused on her career right now and that is fine. Leave it as such. Just make sure to tell the readers that.

DEVELOPING CONFLICTS EVEN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CAN'T SOLVE - In an effort to make a "great story" the authors, in this situation, will often create a plot that becomes more intricate than the Watergate Scandal or the JFK Assassination. On the surface, this sounds like this amazingly elaborate plot that will wow any editor or agent. And, while tackling a subject like this might be impressive, to write about it and to get it in a format that is accessible to the readers will take far too much work.

Again, I am not saying you can't do this, but making a conflict that is too the point, and then doing a lot with it will give you the time and energy to create some pretty dynamic characters and scenes. When you go the other route, your time will be spent on the world building and narration "just to get us up to speed."

MAKING THE SOLUTIONS ELUSIVE - This can be a tough one. You don't want a solution to be as simple as "if he would pick up the phone and call his boss, the problem is over" because that now creates a storyline that becomes repetitive and your readers will give up on you. But, if you go to the other level and create a solution that has too many hoops to jump through, they will also give up.

In this case, think about calling your bank and trying to get to a representative. "Press 1 for...Press 5 for...Press 345# for....." When do you start screaming?

ADDING TOO MANY CHARACTERS - Having a cast of characters is fine, but you don't need a new, well-developed character, every time you need to introduce a new plot element or twist. If the main secretary in the office can do that for you, then let her do the work. If this is something that can be discovered through the main character's introspection, then let them figure it out.

Just keep things straightforward and to the point. I promise you. The simpler you make it for yourself, the more you will enjoy writing this story.

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