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Jul 13, 2009

Is plot structure simple?



In this blog post by Victoria Mixon she says... "plot structure is simple".

By analogy, we could say, "song writing is simple". Such a devotion to simplicity might be appropriate for someone trying to make the next hit pop music tune, but does such a slogan apply to a complex piece of classical music?

Similarly, is there a temptation to "dumb down" novels so as to increase their potential for mass marketing? I think a novel should be a slice of life and life is often complex and messy so why can't a novel reflect the reality of life by being complex rather than simple? Maybe most readers will not be able to keep up and slog through a novel with a complex plot, but does that matter? Does the goal of making a profit and maximizing the number of paying customers dominate this world to the exclusion of letting a novel be complex when it is about a complex story?

"The middle of a book is common bogland". So, if an author does take on the challenge of making a novel with a complex plot, how do you keep the reader from getting confused and bogged down? I'm a great fan of maps, both physical and conceptual. A great advantage of constructing novels in wiki format is that hypertext links and media files can be provided for the reader. For example, The search for Kalid has maps and a glossary. How much of the aversion to complexity in novels is the result of printed books being an inferior medium for dealing with real world complexity?



Jack Vance talks about the value of complexity in life.


"A book filled with characters talking the way we really talk, with tags, goes on forever and bores even the writer to tears." Well, surely it depends on what they are talking about. I think Isaac Asimov showed that novels "filled with talking" can work. Of course, in this age of the tweet, fewer people probably have the required attention span to read a challenging novel. That does not mean that challenging novels should not be written.

Image. This is a diagram of functional modules in the human brain. Creative Commons Attribution License. See: "Uncovering Intrinsic Modular Organization of Spontaneous Brain Activity in Humans"

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  6. Some people have different tastes. Some folks really like to discover new characters in fiction while others are more concerned with the plot.

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