Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Complex vs Complicated

As a reader, I love reading novels which have complex storylines. The twists and turns of multiple storylines within a novel, keep me on the edge of my seat and wondering how the strands of plot are going to fit together.

Kate Atkinson is an expert when it comes to weaving several strands of story. Her novels, particularly in the 'Jackson Brodie' series, demonstrate how to sucessfully use this technique of story telling. She is able to build the suspense of her readers, without confusing them a long the way.

This technique can also have its pitfalls. I have found that those who have attempted to use multi-layered plots and not used it effectively, an example I have come across is 'The Bones of Avalon' by Phil Rickman, have shown that this form of writing if used incorrectly, can leave a reader feeling confused and mentally drained.

Even since taking my writing seriously, I have realised just how fine the line is, between a complex storyline and an overcomplicated one. In previous years, I have written shorter pieces of writing and started a children's novel which at the moment, is sitting in a file waiting to be finished. With my latest project, a short story which manifested itself into a full length novel, I am having to juggle several storylines within one novel. I think that the initial problem with this, was that I wasn't organized from the beginning. You see I'm one of those writers, that prefers an organic approach to writing. The idea for my novel 'The Unheard' came about, after having a dream which refused to leave after waking.

Since its conception, the story has mutated itself into something much more complicated than I had initially anticipated. So I have had to organized and write down a plot guide, to help me remember where I am in the story. That's not to say that my writing always sticks with my plan, I still like to add ideas organically as I go a long. When I have finished 'The Unheard' however, I hope that the final product will be both complex enough to be interesting, but doesn't get out of control and confuse my readers.

What the process of writing has taught me, is that writers not only have to select the right phrasing and vocabulary to interest their audiences, but also act as a juggler to keep the story moving, without it crashing to the ground in a heap. Therefore I have gained respect for those writers who attempt to use this technique in their writing, even when they fail.

What about you? Do you like reading novels with complex plots? Or do you prefer to keep it simple? Also if you are a writer, do you find it difficult to have a balance between complex and complicated within your work?


  1. Oooh, I love this topic. I like both kinds of stories. I would say, overall, I enjoy a very linear approach to storytelling and sometimes that means a very simple story. However, there have been some complex plots I've been really interested in. I think Haruki Murakami does that really well in his books. In my own work, I am a very linear, straightforward story-teller. I am not interested in complicated or even complex plots. I don't even like to skip over huge chunks of time in my books!

  2. Mmm. I like a story well told whether it is simple or complex. The way in which words are used is important to me. I am unhappy if the language is inappropriate to the story and lose interest.

    As a writer of poetry, I like to make each word work so that it may seem simple but what is contained within the poem can be complex.

    As a writer in general, I like the story to be simple but with underlying complexity for those who want more depth .... so the plot is uncomplicated, but there is subtext.

    A great subject to blog about!