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Why is it difficult to keep it simple (1 Viewer)

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Foxee

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Too simple or not nearly simple enough. Anyone else find it hard to strike this balance?

One moment I know I'm writing like an 8-year-old. ("And then THIS happened! And then THIS happened!") And I'm glad I have the propulsion of enthusiasm behind those ideas but they'll need refined.

The next moment my brain is this guy and wants to cloak the whole story in so much mystery that suddenly it's too complex and not forthcoming enough. Readers are confused.
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Do you find yourself wavering back and forth between too-simple and too-mysterious? Have you found a way to think about this? A strategy?

I hope it's not just me or I'm going to feel pretty silly making this thread let me tell you...
 

TheMightyAz

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Mentor
It's the reason I'm concentrating on Short stories at the moment. I'm hooked on subtext rather than inner narrative, so if I think of any depth I want to add, it has to be woven in seamlessly, which leads to some major problems, especially after you've written over 100 pages. Short stories allow me the space I need to still weave in that subtext, without it becoming distracting. I have simple stories for my novels to start with too, but they expand and expand until I've got so many layers, I just know I'm not good enough to do them justice ... and quit.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
Frequently.

I cope by resigning myself to intermittent alcoholism and rewrites without end.
I have been considering a similar tactic, especially the rewrites although my bro gave me a sample of peanut butter whiskey that might just put a little shine on prospective alcoholism.
It's the reason I'm concentrating on Short stories at the moment. I'm hooked on subtext rather than inner narrative, so if I think of any depth I want to add, it has to be woven in seamlessly, which leads to some major problems, especially after you've written over 100 pages. Short stories allow me the space I need to still weave in that subtext, without it becoming distracting. I have simple stories for my novels to start with too, but they expand and expand until I've got so many layers, I just know I'm not good enough to do them justice ... and quit.
Short stories are a good strategy, I think, because there are fewer words to get refined.

Quitting is terrible! Wouldn't recommend it. You're much better than you think you are.
 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
I have been considering a similar tactic, especially the rewrites although my bro gave me a sample of peanut butter whiskey that might just put a little shine on prospective alcoholism.

Short stories are a good strategy, I think, because there are fewer words to get refined.

Quitting is terrible! Wouldn't recommend it. You're much better than you think you are.

Quitting in the sense 'this is beyond my current ability'. I just keep adding layer after layer, and the subplots begin to seep in far too often.

I tried to avoid it with MotherHUD but even that slowly became an allegory of sorts.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Too simple or not nearly simple enough. Anyone else find it hard to strike this balance?

One moment I know I'm writing like an 8-year-old. ("And then THIS happened! And then THIS happened!") And I'm glad I have the propulsion of enthusiasm behind those ideas but they'll need refined.

The next moment my brain is this guy and wants to cloak the whole story in so much mystery that suddenly it's too complex and not forthcoming enough. Readers are confused.

Do you find yourself wavering back and forth between too-simple and too-mysterious? Have you found a way to think about this? A strategy?

I hope it's not just me or I'm going to feel pretty silly making this thread let me tell you...

I have a sure-fire solution for this. Introduce a mystery early, write a lot of character interaction with some adventure, pop in a mysterious event here and there so the reader remembers there was a mystery, then at the end, kick the mystery's solution to the sequel.
 

Foxee

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I have a sure-fire solution for this. Introduce a mystery early, write a lot of character interaction with some adventure, pop in a mysterious event here and there so the reader remembers there was a mystery, then at the end, kick the mystery's solution to the sequel.
Sounds like maybe you've done that before!
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Lots of reasons, but one of them is that people don't view their own writing the way others do.

Almost all of us tend to think our writing is worse than it actually is: Our ideas aren't interesting enough, our style is too simplistic, our characters aren't captivating. Whatever it is that's *good* we are never *there*.

So, most of us start out with a complicated relationship on our own work and a skewed perspective as a result. I have attempted to read my own published work and never manage it. It doesn't matter how good I am told it is, I just can't completely relax enough not to self-critique, and that's what has been published. Rough first drafts are worse.

What happens then, if we allow it, is a pattern of overcompensating. Like a boat that rocks, we find ourselves constantly questioning and adjusting for every perceived flaw, even if the flaw in question is imaginary. For example...

At the grocery store, Bob picked out his shopping. [too simple, you sound like an idiot] As he found himself sniffing each legume with equal parts apprehension and intrigue, fingering the salmon lovingly, at the scent of a zesty lemon his mind drifted back to the grocery stores of a now vanished youth. [what the hell am I SAYING? tone it down!] Finally he picked out a bunch of bananas and took them to the checkout. [my god could this be more boring? SPICE IT UP! MAKE IT GREAT!] And on the way back, driving, Bob thought to himself about how we all must beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.[No, god, keep it simple its a simple scene] Arriving back at home, he had a poo.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
Lots of reasons, but one of them is that people don't view their own writing the way others do.

Almost all of us tend to think our writing is worse than it actually is: Our ideas aren't interesting enough, our style is too simplistic, our characters aren't captivating. Whatever it is that's *good* we are never *there*.

So, most of us start out with a complicated relationship on our own work and a skewed perspective as a result. I have attempted to read my own published work and never manage it. It doesn't matter how good I am told it is, I just can't completely relax enough not to self-critique, and that's what has been published. Rough first drafts are worse.

What happens then, if we allow it, is a pattern of overcompensating. Like a boat that rocks, we find ourselves constantly questioning and adjusting for every perceived flaw, even if the flaw in question is imaginary. For example...
Your example is utterly relatable. (Thank you for the laugh) Sounds a lot like what goes through my mind when someone tries to take a picture of me. ("This is a reliable disaster about to happen...")

Along the same line maybe it's easy for us to know our own work so we think we're explaining things when we're not.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
My WIP is concerning the siege of a walled city, the POV is split (in alternating chapters) between a woman inside the walls and a man outside. Currently both are facing circular problems - issues without a clear resolution. Writing their thoughts and conversations about their situations is proving to be tough - how to write clearly about a complex problem from the POV of a character that is uncertain about what do do.

Ouch. My head hurts.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Sounds like maybe you've done that before!

;-) While that was tongue in cheek, it's pretty common for a series to have an overarching goal which spans the series, and each individual volume accomplishes an intermediate step. So in the book I just finished writing, there is a traitor to be uncovered. By the end of the book my heroes sort out a major foe, but they're still unsure if that foe was prompted into action by the traitor, and they've only narrowed the list of suspects for the traitor himself.

I really had intended this book to be a more complex mystery, but it turned out I didn't have the patience or experience for that sort of mystery at this point. Instead, I had a series of puzzling situations (like "How do you overcome an adversary who can foretell the future and knows everything you plan on doing?"), and I was satisfied with that.

I handle mystery in the story, but by means I consider to be "treasure hunt" solution rather than "aggregate clue" solution. I look at "treasure hunt" where one clue leads to the next. A lot of interesting stories use that method, but they're written by people like me who haven't yet learned to write a proper "aggregate clue" mystery, where you get this and that clue along the way, and drop them together like a jigsaw puzzle for the solution -- Agatha Christie style. Perry Mason books and the TV series were mostly "aggregate clue" mysteries, while the later Perry Mason movies had less clever writers, and they were all "treasure hunt" mysteries.

I aspire to write a "real mystery". I've read dozens and dozens, and I normally have no trouble learning by example. But learning by example doesn't get me "How to expertly create and place clues", which is what I need.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
Do you find yourself wavering back and forth between too-simple and too-mysterious?
Have you found a way to think about this? A strategy?

Yes and no. It all comes down to whatever I am writing at the time. I have instances when I know the whole story/plot in advance
and try to add in as many details and mysterious plot points as I can, so as to give the reader something to really think about.

On the other hand, I sometimes write very short, very simple stories that are to the point and flow quite easily. In this case, I put
all the cards on the table for the reader, and let them decide for themselves.

It's a case by case basis, I suppose.

-JJB
 

clark

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
The utter irrelevance of some memories never ceases to amaze me: Decades ago the Eddy Match Co. used to print little sayings on their tear-off 'books' of matches. ONE of those sayings is so wonderfully foolish, it just popped into my head this moment: MAKE SURE YOU'RE RIGHT, THEN GO AHEAD, attributed to that celebrated intellectual, Davy Crockett. Smile as we might at this instruction, it did lead to these observations, both of which work for me 90% of the time:

1. If I want to 'add' something 'deep' to a character's thoughts or actions . . . I'm usually WRONG (it looks mechanical and arbitrary-- 'Deus ex machina')
2. If I want to add something 'simple' . . . I'm usually RIGHT. See this:

John took a long gulp of his beer and slouched back in his chair.
Angela had had enough of his subtle manipulations. She got up quickly, put on her coat, and headed for the door.
John opened it for her, mumbling apologies . . . .

I've got to get John from his chair to the damned door! These little details keep the setting familiar and believable for the reader. The last thing I want is for the reader thinking, "wait a minute! He's sitting at the table, How could he . . ."). Reader moments like that intrude on the stuff of real interest and 'break the magic' of the unfolding plot. I do it a lot and must be vigilant as my own editor.
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
;-) While that was tongue in cheek, it's pretty common for a series to have an overarching goal which spans the series, and each individual volume accomplishes an intermediate step.

I've noticed that in more successful multi-part storylines. Each installment can work as a standalone, but it also has to dovetail into the larger plot arc. I would suspect it's discouraged in genre-fic as it seems decidedly less pronounced there, with books usually able to stand apart and not requiring readers to approach them in any set order.

It can be a tough act to pull off. That said, when it works it tends to work very well and add a depth you can't always get with one-offs.

From trying to work mine into a similar framework I'd say it's of definite value in a character-driven storyline.
 
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