PDA

View Full Version : Can It Become Too Convoluted?


Reilly616
07-07-2008, 07:20 AM
How many times can a novel (100k to keep it logical) really throw in a complete U-turn or total surprise before it all just falls to pieces and becomes anoying?

Makai_Lightning
07-07-2008, 07:27 AM
Arbitrary number generator....7.

There's really no magic number, I don't think. It depends on, to name a few things, how many things there were to flip to begin with, where the flip is, how close together each curveball is, in what context, subplot or main plot, how quickly you can deal with it, what kind of things you're changeing, why the change was made, and how much it makes sense.

I mean, I can't very well say, "you can throw one major curveball every 10,000 words," because while someone probably has, it doesn't really mean anything. I think you have to make sure the plot makes sense more than anything else. At the point things stop making sense, you have a problem.

I would be careful not to do too many reversals, but it's kinda a subjective thing. The length alone doesn't give me personally much to be able to help you with.

Shweta
07-07-2008, 07:29 AM
Depends on the type of book, I think. Sure, too many turns can give me whiplash, but in some books that's a good thing.

IMO it's best to write it and find out if beta readers are utterly bewildered rather than looking for general rules here. Because I don't think there are any.

ClaudiaGray
07-07-2008, 07:34 AM
A good rule of thumb: Once you're throwing in surprises not for the plot, but for pure shock value, you may be over the line.

The real number will vary. Some clever authors with particularly ingenious plots might be able to change course a hundred times and enthrall readers. Some authors might lose everybody at the first switcheroo. I love plot twists and think they're worth trying, but they should always serve a purpose.

maestrowork
07-07-2008, 07:45 AM
Two words: Mission Impossible.


So yes, it can become too convoluted. Plot twists are great but they must be logical and easy to follow and not done for the sake of twists. When the twists spin out of control and it takes tremendous effort for the readers to figure out what really is going on, you've gone too far.

MelancholyMan
07-07-2008, 07:48 AM
You should have as many U-turns as the story requires to tell. No more, no less. Somewhere in between 0 and inf.

-MM

Shweta
07-07-2008, 08:01 AM
May or may not be relevant, but...
humans can hold 7 plus or minus 2 "items" in working memory. So at any given scale, it's probably not great to throw more than 5-7 things at your readers.

Akuma
07-07-2008, 08:01 AM
A good rule of thumb: Once you're throwing in surprises not for the plot, but for pure shock value, you may be over the line.



I do not feel there's any "may" about it. Pure shock value is a negative no matter how I look at it. Unless it's satire shock value. And then it's not really shock value.

What were we talking about?

blacbird
07-07-2008, 08:08 AM
Eleven.

caw

Use Her Name
07-07-2008, 09:42 AM
I am usually surprised and pleased when I come across a logical solid story. I actually get a bit pissed off when it looks like the writer labored overtime trying to find the most baroque way to put it together. It usually looks fussy, unnatural, and a lot of times won't hold up under scrutiny. Excessive ornamentation in art usually covers up faulty design (Gothic cathedrals aside) It is hard to find something that is both clear and convoluted, you end up shooting yourself in the foot. Sorry if I might offend-- It is just my opinion.

TPCSWR
07-07-2008, 10:37 AM
A good rule of thumb: Once you're throwing in surprises not for the plot, but for pure shock value, you may be over the line.

Agree completely.

The exceptions are satire as Akuma pointed out and the "mind screw" plot in which the whole point is throwing curveballs.

tehuti88
07-07-2008, 07:34 PM
How many times can a novel (100k to keep it logical) really throw in a complete U-turn or total surprise before it all just falls to pieces and becomes anoying?

As many times as it wants as long as the writer makes it clear enough for the reader what is going on. I don't necessarily mean explaining every little thing as if the reader is a child, but rather making every situation clear enough that it all makes sense in context and isn't just a bunch of random stuff happening.

If the writer fails to do this, then the story will get too confusing to follow.

You should also make sure that all these U-turns and surprises have a bearing on the plot and aren't just in there for the heck of it. That's even more annoying than a confusing story. If the reader gets the impression that the writer is just tossing in things to keep it interesting, they'll lose interest.

maestrowork
07-07-2008, 09:31 PM
42.

HeronW
07-07-2008, 09:41 PM
On crime shows they offer 3-5 suspects for a murder and one by one the suspects are eliminated or moved up the list of 'most likely to' according to new evidence.

In a fav movie 'Murder on the Orient Express' 12 suspects and all were guilty--awesome movie and the way that was found out was very well done.

The twists need to keep the drama going without sidetracking. So, as many as you can handle without getting lost.

Momento Mori
07-07-2008, 09:55 PM
I think the main things you need to know are:

1. what your story is, i.e. how it gets to its ending from the beginning;

2. how the plot twists/U-turns help you to tell that story (i.e. are you using them because you're stuck and can't figure out how to move out of a scene, or are they all part of the overall storyline); and

3. if the plot twists/U-turns actually move the story along or whether they keep the book static, e.g. do they always return the protagonist to Square One or do they help move him/her to the next point in the story.

Much of this depends on genre. Other people have pointed out that detective writers put in many plot twists to keep the reader guessing, but if you're writing a romance/chick-lit novel, that sense of reader insecurity might go against why people read the genre*.

It's also something that can really only be decided on for good once you get to the end of the manuscript and start revising.

MM

*I'm not saying that as an absolute DO NOT, it's merely a suggestion.

Seif
07-08-2008, 02:20 AM
A good rule of thumb: Once you're throwing in surprises not for the plot, but for pure shock value, you may be over the line.


Nothing could be more true, a lot of times I have seen authors use an opening line that is pure shock value and so utterly unrelated to the rest of the story that it makes you wander whether the author is insulting our intelligence or is him/herself completely devoid of intelligence.

Another note, don't try to be clever by making stupid mistakes. An unexpected and clumsy twist could leave your readers going round in circles,full 360, throwing your book back on to the floor (for agents read slush pile) and walk right out of the door.

I have quite a few unexpected turns, or integrated plot devices which are developed subtlely from chapter to chapter, and I am willing to change this for the sake of story rather than stroke my own ego and saying - 'Hey everybody, look how clever I am.' That's known as author intrusion.

NeuroFizz
07-08-2008, 02:43 AM
Three rights make a left, but two U-turns put you back on the original track.

Most times when there is a twist in the story, the author should (in my opinion) give some subtle hints so the reader has a chance at figuring it out. However, the best twists are the ones where the reader slaps his/her forehead and says, "I should have seen that coming." That latter reaction is because the hints were so subtle they were only apparent after the fact, but they were there nonetheless. Successful plot twists frequently require clever writing, and not just in the scene in which the twist is spun.

ORION
07-08-2008, 02:46 AM
I totally disagree with Maestro and blacbird.
It's three.
Everybody knows that.
Jeesh...

David I
07-09-2008, 01:17 PM
Don't think there's an intrinsic limit, but one or two really good twists have far more impact than a dozen mediocre twists.

William Goldman was the master of that sort of thing. What he'd do is take two U-turns in the same action sequence. Check out the "rescue" sequence in Marathon Man. Classic. One or two of those per book is enough to make the reader remember it as awesomely twisty.

(See also the films Deathtrap and Les Diaboliques. Big surprises--but not many of them.)

maestrowork
07-09-2008, 01:25 PM
I so agree with David. Too many twists make your head spin so fast that it will come off your neck. One or two really good ones are so memorable in comparison.

It's not to say your book should be filled with predictable plot turns and cliches. Plot is all about choices, and every turn should present the readers with a hint of how things may go. Sometimes it goes the way they expect, and sometimes not. That's how stories are interesting, page turners. But if you keep pulling the rug under the readers' feet, sooner or later they won't be able to stand anymore.

Neurotic
07-09-2008, 01:40 PM
It all depends on whether the twists leave me saying "ohhhhhhh" or "oh, come ON!!" With the second, one is too many. With the first... No magic number but more than one every few chapters may leave me with motion sickness.

SPMiller
07-09-2008, 03:23 PM
Twists are overrated.

In my fantasy novel, I train the reader to expect betrayal from everyone, even trusted authority figures. Hooray for Xanatos Gambits. Then, at the climax, when I've built up yet another betrayal and the reader is really expecting it, wham! I hit them with the least twisted, most obvious solution, and it turns out the person from whom they expected a betrayal was playing her cards straight all along.

I think it's beautiful, but I'll have to see what my betas think...

James D. Macdonald
07-09-2008, 04:05 PM
It all depends on how skillful you are. Else you should ask the ballet dancer "Can you do too many pirouettes?"

Reilly616
07-09-2008, 04:37 PM
Twists are overrated.

In my fantasy novel, I train the reader to expect betrayal from everyone, even trusted authority figures. Hooray for Xanatos Gambits. Then, at the climax, when I've built up yet another betrayal and the reader is really expecting it, wham! I hit them with the least twisted, most obvious solution, and it turns out the person from whom they expected a betrayal was playing her cards straight all along.

I think it's beautiful, but I'll have to see what my betas think...


But the thing is... that IS a twist. :D

Phaeal
07-09-2008, 08:24 PM
I agree with David I. If you're talking major twists, say, OMG the bad guys are really the good guys, one or two should suffice. Minor twists, as many as needed.

Twists for the sake of twisting make me twist -- toward the trash can.

dwellerofthedeep
07-09-2008, 09:34 PM
I hate it when a book spends more time twisting rather than building the story or world or characters. A constantly twisted story is, in my opinion, a parlor trick when compared to a well developed straight-line or moderately twisted story.

The ancient Greeks had it right for most everything. Moderation is key. In this case I agree with what a number of other posters have said. One or two twists is good if they're big and little ones can often go unnoticed or at least, not jar a reader.

Wolvel
07-09-2008, 10:38 PM
It really depends on the story. Some need only one to cause havoc others several. Which is better, all depends if the story can hold it.

Sometimes one major twist or u turn is the best.

Example was in the story for the video game Star Wars; Knights of the Old Republic. The twist dealing with your character came out of left field, but it totally made the story.

Over used example is the MC's best friend turning out to be the bad guy.