I have a confession to make. I am a victim of complicatitis. Whenever I wind up with a plot problem, I ultimately complicate the hell out of it. This most often happens when I need something to be a certain way for the plot but I don’t necessarily know how it happens or why. I suspect that others with this affliction have the same trigger because I can usually tell where something was done in the story just because the author needed this or that to happen and didn’t give enough foundation to justify why that was.
Example: In Hunted in Shadow, I need Marley to be drugged and kidnapped by the bad guys. This is how the hero gets his first opportunity to rescue her and is actually the gateway into the story world. In the first outline of this book, I had this massively complicated plan whereby the bad guys snuck into her hotel room, stole her daily medication, replaced it with a look alike drug that would actually knock her out, such that she effectively drugs herself. A bit of a stretch? Um, yeah. And damn if it didn’t take two people to point it out and suggest it just be something simple like having them slip something in her drink or dinner. Yes, I came to my senses. Thank you Pot and Tanya.
I have a terrible habit of doing this, and it so often bogs me down because I keep trying to out do myself and find some other way to make it interesting or unique (and very often absolutely unbelievable). I really need to take Occam’s Razor (“The simpliest explanation is usually the best one.”) and post it somewhere I can see it when I’m plotting. I think I so often confuse simple with trite/overdone/boring and that’s not always the case. If you’re jumping through hoops to come up with a scenario in your story, chances are you’re jumping yourself right out of the realm of what your reader is willing to believe on some poetic faith. Which will either result in a loss in your own credibility as a storyteller or your book being thrown at a wall.
Pot pulled me out of another one of these morasses today. I’ve been away from my WIP for several days owing to my recent vacation, and as I’ve mulled over things, I was really uncomfortable with the fact that Knox (my bad guy) didn’t (in my mind) have a justifiable reason for having Marley kidnapped/attacked. I kept coming back to what he thinks Anya told her about his plot to indirectly assasinate the alpha (which was, in fact, nothing), but I just couldn’t make it work because I don’t know what Anya knows and neither does Knox. But there is a simple rule in the Mirus world–humans can’t know about their existance, ever. It compromises everyone, so those humans who are unlucky enough to find out are generally summarily executed. Pot pointed out today that some simple miscommunication in their first conversation (when Marley goes to report Anya missing) could easily make Knox believe that she knows that Anya is Wylk and therefore falls under the heading of threat because of that knowledge. See? Simple. Why didn’t I think of that? And even more convenient, if Anya told Marley what she is (and thereby about the existence of everything else in the Mirus world), then Knox has leverage against her should she try to come out with whatever she knows about his plot to have Ulric murdered, which feeds back in to Knox’s motivation. This is the reason I think I have the best CP in the world.
Now that I’ve been set on the right track again, I plan to review what I have of Act 1 and make a few alterations before moving forward.
Ah, you know I love ya. I had just read through this post and then remembered to drop you an email reminder to regarding your auto-tweets and your new name.
Which of course brought sharply into focus how your Complicatitis (like my perfectionism) is not limited to your fiction, your name change/blog home epic saga being a really good example.
Which is not to say that I don’t do it too. I’ve always known that I do it with regard to design. I start out wanting to do a project and it grows to encompass (read: show off) every embellishment technique or complication of pattern under the sun. So that I make decisions based on what I _can_ do rather than on what’s good and harmonious for the piece as a whole. Things become too busy, distracting–not to mention to complicated and labor-intensive to finish.
I’ve also done it with characters. We’ve talked about these, the characters to which one keeps adding experiences or abilities, etc, until they’re completely unbelievable super characters no one can relate to. And we know it happens with plots, stories that go off on tangents because the author just couldn’t let a “good” idea go, even though it didn’t really fit into the story well.
While I really appreciate the unique and complex in any art, what I love is pattern, and pattern comes from building with the same set of blocks you’re already using. Each block is different and yet in some way the same or related. While some designs might benefit from one stand-out, focal point block from a different set, combining multiple wildly different elements usually leads to noise.
I guess what I was trying to say there is that when you come to a question of: ok, how do I make this work the way I need it to work? the answer is probably in your story, not in the ether.
I remember listening in to a conversation Deb Dixon was having with a friend of mine about the UF my friend is writing. Deb said, “Remember…Complex, not complicated.”
THAT’S what you need to remember.
Complex, not complicated
Yeah that’s a good point (and I love Deb’s book). I think the difference is rather subtle but very important. Maybe that’s a post for another day.