Common Pitfalls: Complicated and Unfamiliar Plots

It’s easy to misunderstand me when I say “complicated plot”. After all, the word “complicated” is open to interpretation. Do I mean a plot that keeps the reader guessing with all of its twists and turns? Do I mean a plot with in-depth, seemingly bottomless characters? Do I mean that the world is so multi-faceted so that it could easily be considered “complicated”?

No. At least, not in the context. Don’t get me wrong, the forms of “complicated” that I just mentioned are good things to have, and especially so in certain genres like mystery or science fiction. In some ways, you want your story to be complicated. But I’m talking about a different kind of complicated–one you want to avoid if you can help it.

This commonly happens in young writers who are midway through or almost finished with their manuscript. They still may be relatively new to the art of writing, but they can perceive more about their work than the average layman can. Looking over their work with what they consider to be a critical eye, they detect what they at first consider to be a discrepancy: their story is needlessly complicated.

Let me give an example. Let’s say that the heroine is tied to a chair in a room full of bombs. She’s got four hours before the bombs go off. The hero and his friends are devising a plan to find her. They have the villainous mastermind in their jail. Here is the good guys’ plan: they will send the villain, covered by snipers, to a crime boss meeting, where one of the crime bosses will ask where the villain is holding the heroine. The villain will be forced to confess, because if he doesn’t, the crime bosses will kill him.

But wait. This is a fine plot, but it seems…unnecessarily complicated. Couldn’t they just torture the villain, threaten him, or bribe him? There are too many things that could go wrong with the plan the good guys have devised. It would be a much simple route to use one of the direct approaches. When the writer is writing this, odds are they didn’t put too much plot into what could have been done until afterwards. When “afterwards” comes, however, they see that the elaborate plot they have constructed could have been solved in a much simpler, albeit usually much more down-to-earth, fashion.

If you spot this in your own writing, the first step is to not freak out. (This is a good idea in any situation, but especially here for reasons that I will disclose shortly) The reason for this is because a “complicated plot” seems like a very dreadful problem and certainly can be, but it is not always the case.

In many cases, if you thought hard enough, you could think of simple solutions for the most drastic-sounding problems in what we consider to be classic literature. Frodo needs to take the ring to Mount Doom? Who hasn’t seen the meme where Frodo just suggests that they use the eagles to fly there, instead of going on foot most of the way? Oedipus is doomed to kill his father and marry his mother? Dude, why don’t you just become a pacifist and take a vow of celibacy?

Heck, this isn’t even much of a problem if the reader says “there is probably another solution to this” but can’t think of one. This forces the reader to believe that there isn’t a better solution than the one that was executed in the story, at least not one that could have been thought of in time.

However, when the “they could have just done that” sentiment presents itself like a fist-sized hole in a wall, then we have a problem. The most conceivably direct route should be the one taken in a course of conflict, otherwise the “they could have done that” thought becomes a plot hole, which is something you want very dearly to avoid.

To fix this problem, you can adjust the circumstances to be more dire so that your specific plan is the one that fits the bill perfectly. You can also rewrite the whole situation, but if you don’t want to so that, I would suggest going with the former option.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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