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How To Stop Overcomplicating Your Plot
Your plot is what makes your story work. The best characters in the world, the most beautiful writing style, even a groundbreaking, heartbreaking, inspiring, hilarious idea will all be let down if your plot hasn’t been carefully thought out.
A complicated plot is often a writer's downfall. There is nothing worse than reading a book where you have to keep flicking back to try to remember who said what, or what happened previously to make what you are now reading make sense! I have read books before where you follow the story through several different characters eyes (not an uncommon device and one I used in my own novel). However, the plot became so complicated, and the stories so intertwined that I found it almost impossible to keep up with whose perspective I was following.
I have also read books where the plot jumps from place to place, from time to time, and uses several secret languages. Or ones where the brothers, mothers father is in love with the adopted sister's great grandmother, who herself is in love with her sister's husband's brother who has a daughter who is in love with the adopted sisters long lost son.
No one wants to read a book that makes them feel stupid, and while plots should be exciting, fast paced and unpredictable, if your reader ends up lost and bewildered, reading your novel will start to feel like a chore, and they may soon give up altogether.
The truth is it’s an easy mistake to make. We want our stories to be as exciting as possible and sometimes get carried away. What’s another long lost sibling showing up unexpectedly at the father's funeral? What’s another troubled past involving deep dark secrets that change the lives of everyone around them? We want our stories to be thrilling and adventurous; we want to keep the reader guessing. The trouble is when you have added so many strings to the plot that they can’t guess at all - that they couldn’t possibly because they have no idea what’s going on, that's when you'll start to lose them.
So, the real question is how do you stop yourself from doing this? Here are some tips to help you become more disciplined when it comes to your plot.
Describe it, without writing it down, in less than 30 seconds.
If you can’t explain your basic story in less than 30 seconds, your plot may be too complicated. Think about what it would say to describe your story on the back cover of your book. Figure out how to trim your story so that it is clear and easy to explain.
Share it, in detail, with a friend
Ask someone who isn’t a writer to listen to how your plot unfolds chapter by chapter. Try to be as succinct as possible but don’t leave out too many details. Sometimes we need a fresh set of ears to help us realise where there are inconsistencies or questions left unanswered.
See if your story works without your subplot
Rather than reworking your subplot over and over again, ask yourself what would be lost if you took it out altogether. Does the main story remain unaffected? If this is the case, then perhaps you need to decide whether you should include it at all.
Scrutinise the actions of your characters
Look at what your characters are doing every step of the way, why are they doing these things? Understanding your characters motivation to speak or act in a certain way is important. If you can’t understand why they have said what they said or done what they did perhaps you need to rethink these sections.
Are there parts that feel laborious?
When reading over your story are there parts where you find yourself skimming rather than reading? This often happens to me when editing my work. I’ll be interested in the story, and loving how it flows, then there comes along a paragraph or two that I skim over. Being overly familiar with your work means it is easy to convince yourself it is just because you know it so well, but really these are the parts that are boring you, they need addressing so make sure you pay attention to them.
Be thorough not dramatic
Instead of ripping out entire sections of your book as a way to tighten the plot instead carefully go through it scene by scene. The danger of cutting massive parts is that it could affect your story further down the line. If you are thorough and diligent, you will only cut out the parts necessary to make your story flow and will end up with a much tighter plot overall.
A lean, carefully thought out plot will really benefit your book. Concentrating on this before you write your story will save you so much time in the long run too. Don’t let your plot get the better of you, stay strict, keep it simple and you’ll feel so much more in control of your story - your readers will thank you for it too!