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Friday, May 30, 2014

Complicating Factors

One thing I've always admired about the Harry Potter books (besides pretty much everything) is the intricacy of the plot. The way elements in the simpler early books come back and inform key pieces of the later books, the red herrings and misdirection, the subplots that come around and turn into major influences of the overall arc of the series -- it's masterful to the point that the word is almost insufficient.

The Harry Potter books are a beautiful concoction of complications.

My plot is ... less so. And that is something I am working to fix. A plot that is exactly what it seems, that unfolds and resolves in a linear fashion, is not only boring -- it's false. It's artificial and not in anyway a reflection of how life and the world operates. It needs to be complicated.

That's not to say that the answer to your mystery needs to be convoluted. Go for it, if it's what you're writing. But if "the simplest answer is often the correct one" appeals to you, then that's cool too. You don't need to make everything convoluted, but you need to make it realistically messy -- and interesting -- along the way.

There's a boundless selection of ways to do this. As many unpredictable complications as our lives throw at us -- there are even more available to you in fiction. It's just a matter of grasping them. But the surefire way to improve your novel and complicate your plot is going to be to make your character fallible.

"Wait! Hold your horses!" you protest. "Are you implying that I Mary Sue'd my character? Well I never! The nerve!" And so on with the huffy indignation.

But look -- I wrote a whole post about this before. We don't like being wrong, and it's hard to let our characters be wrong. But fallibility isn't just about wrongness. It can also be that your character lacks information. Or your character is unable to act upon the information that they have. Perhaps they're unable to convince others of what they know. Maybe nobody even cares. Fallibility isn't just about your character's wrongness, it's about the power or lack thereof. 

In short, you need to allow your character to be out of control. Allow them to become overwhelmed, have things happen which they can't predict, for which they are unprepared. Have them live their life like we live ours -- unsure of what's going to happen, and reacting to new situations with occasional impotency. Sometimes stuff happens, it throws us of track, and there's nothing we can do about it. Let your character be a leaf in the wind every now and then. It's up to you to be the strong gust.

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