Creating Complex Plots

6:00 AM








Here we are at week #3 of my 4-week blog post series on the four parts of complex stories. So far I've written about complex characters and complex settings, and now we're getting to what's perhaps the hardest part of all, Complex Plots.

Plots are hard. Super hard. This is a fact. Now, I'm a huge pantser, as you must know already, so this isn't a blog post about how to plot or plan and outline the entire novel beforehand. I don't recommend that personally, anyway. I'm going to talk about what makes a good, complex plot in my own reading experience, and you can apply it to planning beforehand, think about it as you're writing, or have it in mind while editing, whatever suits you. I'm fixing the plot in editing right now, since that's easiest for me.

Complex Plots have complex characters. Have you ever stopped reading a book because you didn't like the characters, or they felt too fake? I've talked before about how characters carry the whole story, and it's absolutely true. A good, complex, developed character (or multiple characters, often) will sometimes take the story into their own hands and go places you wouldn't have thought of before. Different types of characters make different decisions, and the character's decisions should be the main factor of the plot. No one wants to read a book where the plot carries the character the whole way. (of course, it's only natural that they'll be dragged into lots of situations that they can't control. That's unavoidable. But they should definitely make some decisions that influence the plot.)

Example: The Hunger Games. (Yes, I do often use this for examples.) Obviously, Katniss didn't choose the Hunger Games. That's a situation that's out of her control, as are many things that happen during the games. But it's Katniss's decision to volunteer for her sister that really gets the plot moving.



Complex plots have some element of mystery. You don't want a book that explains everything in the first few chapters, do you? That takes all the fun out of reading it. A good, complex plot has something that hooks you, makes you want to know more and keep reading. A lot of the time, it's more than one thing. A lot of times, the baiting the readers tactic works: give them a mystery, and introduce a new one right before solving the first one. But good, intriguing plots usually have something that you don't find out until the end.

Example: The Maze Runner. WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON IN THAT BOOK. You're immediately thrown into the plot without any clue what's happening, or what's going on, and you don't really find out much until the end (although that book is a little more vague with its solving things, to be honest.) Some things are figured out, but there's always a mystery to keep you curious. 

So confused. 

Complex plots have layers. This sort of ties in with a trait of complex characters, having conflicting interests. Obviously, the antagonist and the protagonist want very different things in the story. A more minor character might also want something, and be working against the both of them. Layers and motives influence a plot hugely. I like to make a list of the different characters, what each character wants during the story, and how that might effect the plot. Do you have an organization that might want different things than the protagonist helping them? Do you have different countries (usually in fantasy) that all have different motives? These are all things that might influence the plot: it's not just one motive driving it.

Example: The Lord of the Rings. This is mostly characters, but a good example nonetheless. Every single character in the Fellowship has a different motive for completing the same action (getting the Ring to Mordor, generally) and that effects the plot in different ways. Frodo just wants to be rid of the thing, Boromir wants the Ring to help his country, Gollum just wants the ring for himself, etc. Not to mention the different lands and other powers at play. 

LotR GIFS for the win. 

Complex plots don't drag. This isn't to say that you shouldn't ever have quiet moments in your story. These are necessary, since you don't want to kill your characters (not all of them, anyway) from lack of rest. But I'm sure you've read plenty of books where the plot didn't go anywhere for a long while, or sagged in the middle, or just plain dragged the whole way through and didn't go anywhere. Usually, this is the result of the book being too long, and the author feeling the need to put in filler. I like to write (or, more accurately, edit) by the idea that shorter is almost always better. Cut out what doesn't need to be there, tighten up the scenes, lift up that saggy middle by taking out what doesn't absolutely need to be there, and you'll have much less of a chance of readers putting it down halfway through because they were bored. Make sure you have plenty of action, and even the quiet scenes do something to either develop the characters or move the plot forward. 

Example: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. I've used this one as an example before too, but I just really love it and I think it's a very good example of this. Steelheart, which I'd highly encourage you to read, has plenty of action, and plenty of quiet resting spots too, but there was never a moment that I felt didn't help the story. Most if not all of the dialogue served to move the story or the characters forward in some way, and get us to the plentiful, exciting action scenes. 


What about you? What do you think makes up a good, complex plot? What book do you think succeeds in having an excellent, maybe near-perfect plot in your mind? Comment away.

11 comments

  1. I agree that complex plots do need an element of mystery, which is why to me a ton of good books seem like they have mystery as a subgenre. Also, complex plots have a sense of resonance because the ending leaves the story a little bit open ended. And, of course, I agree with everything else you said in this post.

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    1. Oh, definitely! It's hard to pinpoint good traits of plots because most plots differ from each other, but I think there's a few key things that it's generally good to have. (but like most writing rules, if done well you could change it up.) Thanks for reading!

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  2. THANK YOU AIMEE.
    *Inspiratiooooon*
    Seriously though, I can't wait to plan out my next story.And make it all complex. XD
    And who knows, I might even still be able to fix Gifted lol.

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    1. Well, I think you can fix just about any story, you know. xD It's all a matter of editing. *sighs* Good luck!

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  3. I agree so much with you! It takes complex characters to make complex plots. I love it when books are more character driven than plot driven.

    As for books with nearly perfect plots, I really loved the plot of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride. It had complex (and truly awesome) characters, layers of differing interests, and a good amount of mystery, and didn't drag.

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    1. Ooh, I think I've seen that book before, or at least heard of it. Thanks for reading!

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  4. I definitely agree with the layers! Complex plots really need that! I haven't really thought about "complex plots" before this....so this is really interesting. I like to read books that don't drag and that have more than one thing going on, and I LOVE plot twists and smart and devious things. xD

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    1. Yes, devious things are usually a must-have for me. Bring on the mystery!

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  5. Great, helpful advice Aimee. I'm a Pantser too. :):):).

    Melody's Musings

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    1. *high five for pantsing* Thanks for reading!

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