Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, November 29 & 30, 2012

Today marks the end of this year’s NaNoWriMo. If you were NaNo-ing, I hope you made your target. Now the fun begins: editing that (bleep)y first draft. 😉 Maybe the posts below will help you do that and get the final result published.

CRAFT

When Jeanne Kisacky writes about deep and shallow plots, she isn’t necessarily referring to graves, although for someone writing a murder mystery, that certainly could apply. Instead, what she’s referring to in Building a Plot of Variable Depth on Writer Unboxed is how plot relates to pace and character. When the plot is shallow, the story’s pace is quick. When the plot is deep, that’s a time of exploring character and change. A well-written story moves back and forth between the two.

Two posts on characters to check out. How Do You Create Characters? on The Kill Zone asks TKZ readers for their techniques. Mine’s there and you can check out other writers’ as well. Jennifer R. Hubbard (@JenRHubbard) has a concise discussion of The supporting cast on her blog, writerjenn, with good examples of how writers have used them badly and well. Thanks to Nathan Bransford for pointing out this piece.

There are also two posts on tension/suspense. Ollin Morales’ (@OllinMorales) How to Create Suspense on Write to Done uses an example of a Hitchcock movie to make the point of telling the reader just enough—and no more—to keep them wondering what will happen next. Victoria Mixon’s (@VictoriaMixon) longer Making Tension Tense on Writer Unboxed says much the same thing, but with three examples.

BUSINESS

Victoria Strauss (@VictoriaStrauss) of Writer Beware joins the chorus of negative reviews today in Archway Publishing: Simon & Schuster Adds a Self-Publishing Division. In case you hadn’t heard, Archway is S&S’s link to Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI), which I mentioned last time. Unlike Dean Wesley Smith’s previous post on the topic, however, Strauss goes into much more detail on why sensible writers should stay far far away from anything having to do with ASI. Read and heed.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s latest Business Rusch (@kriswrites; again, as always, very long) column, Getting Rid of the Middle Man, is really about Kickstarter, one of the “crowdsourcing” web sites (along with FaithFunder and IndieGoGo), writers and others can use to fund projects. Unfortunately, getting to the real meat of the piece—what to do and not do in order to have a reasonable chance at getting your Kickstarter project funded—requires skipping screen after screen of other material. If you’re thinking of using Kickstarter or one of the others, the piece is probably worth a look, but plan on hitting the Page Down key several times before you get to the good stuff.

Joel Friedlander (@jfbookman) introduces something I think is very cool: A New (Free) Way to Sell Books from Your Sidebar. Agent Claire Ryan (@rayntweets) has created a WordPress plugin called Buy This Book (available through the WordPress Plugin Directory) that lets blog visitors to click on an image of the book’s cover and get a slide-out menu of links to websites where the book can be purchased. While the plugin is available only for blogs/web sites using WordPress.org software, Ryan also provides the HTML code that can be copied into a WordPress.com blog and modified as necessary—plus the instructions on how to install it properly as a widget.

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) Write It! Wednesday piece, Your Writing Superheroes talks about hers, which may or may not be interesting. But one of her four stood out to me: the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (a.k.a 826NYC). These folks are part of an organization called 826 National, a nonprofit that supports eight writing and tutoring centers around the country for kids 6-18—in New York, DC, Ann Arbor, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco. (Darn shame it’s just eight.) Anyway, if you live in one of these cities, have a thing for kids and writing, and want to do some volunteer work, you might want to check them out.

JUST FOR FUN

Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s epigraph to The Great Gatsby is a fake—that he quoted a character from one of his previous books? Check out Robert Bruce’s (@robertbruce76) latest 101 Books post, The “High Bouncing Lover”?

And one more thing, from Dan Blank’s (@DanBlank) e-newsletter today. You may have seen images like the ones in this video by @kottke as chalk drawings on city streets… but you probably haven’t seen anything quite like them, either. What’s the relation to writing? They’re both illusions: some are optical, some are mental. Enjoy.

Come across something great? Don’t delay: share it in the Comments below!

Critique Technique, part 22—Overly Complex Plot

Tangled rope

Photo credit: Boaz Yiftach via freedigitalphotos.net

In a way it’s hard to say that a story’s plot is overly complex. Many stories have multiple plot lines, each with their own subplots, and yet the story “works”: the reader can understand what’s going on, the plot lines all make sense (eventually, anyway), and things come together at the end. Maybe the conclusion doesn’t tie everything together in a pretty bow, but the story doesn’t end in a Gordian knot, either.

So the question isn’t whether a story’s plot is too complex, but whether it’s too complex for the space allotted to it. Is there time and length for the various plot elements to be explored in enough depth and detail for them to all make sense?

If you’re reviewing a stand-alone piece—a short story or non-fiction article, for example—and you’ve got the whole thing in front of you, that’s easy enough to judge. If the plot is too complex, the piece will:

  • Feel rushed, as if the author was hurrying to get to the end; and/or
  • Leave you wanting to know more, with the sense that the author perhaps knew things she didn’t tell; and/or
  • Leave you confused, not having gotten information you needed to make sense of what you had.

Those latter two points can be techniques literary-fiction writers use—leaving out key details which the reader is then supposed to pull out of the subtext or context—but that’s not what I’m talking about here. You, the reviewer, also need to know what genre a fiction story is a part of.

Creative non-fiction can use these techniques, too, but only with caution.

If you’re reviewing part of a longer piece, such as a single chapter, or even a group of chapters, of a novel, judging whether a plot is too complex for the space allotted to it is much more difficult. Each chapter has its own plot elements, of course, but they won’t necessarily be linked together yet. They might be occurring at the same time, or be linked in some logical way. If you have an outline or synopsis of the entire book, you have a tool you can use to evaluate a chapter’s complexity. If you’ve seen—and can remember the details of—previous chapters, that can also help.

If not, you’re going to have to fall back on your own writer’s sense of what works. You can:

  • Discuss the story with the author;
  • Make notes to help keep track of the various plot lines;
  • Flag events and details that don’t make sense or seem out of place at the moment to see if they’re justified, explained, or resolved later.

There’s one other factor to consider, irrespective of story length or type: whether one or more plot lines are necessary to the story at all. This is a question that can generate a lot of angst and consternation in the writer because he may well consider every piece critical.

Tough noogies.

You’re doing the author a big favor if you can demonstrate that the story will be better—tighter, clearer, more focused—if certain material is taken out. The thing is, you’ll need to be able to see the whole story, more than likely, to be able to make a strong case for this position.

So, here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider a piece’s plot complexity:

  • Does each plot line and subplot contribute to the overall story?
  • Does the story, or the part I can see, feel rushed, as if too much is happening at once or without sufficient development or explanation?
  • Presuming you can see the whole story:
    • Can a plot line or subplot be removed from the story without damage? Might doing so make the story better?
    • Are the relationships and connections among the plot lines clear, or made clear at appropriate times?
    • By the end of the story, do I feel I knew enough to make sense of it and its plot lines? Was information left out that left me confused when this wasn’t the author’s intent?

What do you use to evaluate whether a story’s plot is too complex or not?