Confuse Them and Lose Them

There’s a tendency in writing for people to think that if a three ring circus is good a five ring circus must be better and a seventeen ring Circus must be awesome.   Except it’s not because a lot of stuff happening doesn’t mean it’s exciting.  In fact it’s usually means that things are confusing for your reader/viewer.  Worse it suggests that you as the creator don’t have a clue what you’re doing.  That you’re just flinging stuff at the wall and praying something sticks.  When that starts happening you’ve lost the trust of your readers/viewers and it’s very hard to get that back.

This is on my mind right now because I was looking at an outline for a script and also did a plot break with a friend for their novel.  In both cases there were backstories and plots within plots and plots that went nowhere, and a plethora of characters and frenetic action and neither of these projects worked.

They were missing the basic theme.  What is this about — and no, don’t tell me the plot — and they were both missing a through line.  Another way to say it is what is the spine of this story.  What are the moves that have to be there to make this story understandable and satisfying?  Once you have that you can hang ornaments and lights on the spine, but you always need to be asking if this particular glittering bauble or flashing light actually helping me tell my story or explicate character of is it just activity for activities sake that isn’t going anywhere.

Yes, it’s a tightrope.  Too simple and linear and your readers or viewers are going to be ahead of you, will never be surprised, and will get bored.  Too much going on and you’ll confuse them and lose them.

Next up — I’m going to write about protagonists and how they really need to “protag”.

One Response to Confuse Them and Lose Them

  • I’m reading a book like that right now. Worse, it’s a franchise novel, and has… other problems related to that franchise. (As in “almost no appearances by the main characters of the franchise.” I suspect executive/editorial meddling.)

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