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Thread: The problem of complexity

  1. #1

    Icon5 The problem of complexity

    Hey y'all.

    First of all I'd like to apologise for the long text that's coming. Even though there's a lot of explanation forthcoming it's still open ended. And I'd like to hear your thoughts on it. And part of why the text is so long is because I'm quite confused.

    There's one particular problem I'm struggling with which might apply to many of you as well, and I'd like to hear your way of handling it.
    The problem is:
    Complexity

    What I mean by complexity isn't how complicated the story feels to the reader, but rather how hard it is for the writer to develop his story.
    Obviously the story shouldn't feel too complicated so that the reader can still follow, but it can still be an arduous task for the writer to come up with it.

    A story is always about some kind of change. That change can either be some change for realz or some new information that changes your perception or that of the characters involved. Stories are typically about plots and characters, and these are thus in need to be developed for the story to work.
    That development can either come from within the plots/characters or from their interactions.

    Moreover, most, if not all, writers tend to only have a rough idea about their topic when they start writing, and what they write changes as it's being written, as the vague notion they started changes into something more concrete.

    So many stories tend to start out rather simple, but become more and more complicated as new characters and subplots are being introduced.
    And the more elements you have, the harder it gets to align them all and make sure they have some interesting development that fit well into the story (timing & pacing!) and also have a satisfying end.

    That can be extremely hard, and the easy fix tends to be to introduce more characters to resolve old conflicts. But that fix tends to be shortsighted and exacerbates the problem long term, as you have yet more characters to think of.
    All of this can result in plotholes or even writers being unable to finish their own stories, and I think George R.R. Martin is a prime example of this.

    You can even express this complexity problem mathematically:
    Let's assume that a) you want to develop each element (character, plot, or other), and b) that this development as stated earlier can either come from within or from their interactions with another, having 2 elements would give you a complexity of 4. Each element you want to develop can change from within itself, and/or through interaction with the other.
    Let's say you have 3 elements, and you want to develop all 3 of them, that gives you a complexity of 9, as each element can change on its own and/or through 2 interactions. That's 5 more problems than if you only had 2 elements.
    For n elements, the complexity is n². The complexity increases exponentially.
    Let's say you want to keep some elements static and without any development, the complexity would be n*m. n being the number of elements you develop and m the total number of elements including those that you don't want to change at all.

    Obviously, it takes an engineer to formulate it mathematically, and I'm pretty sure no writer thinks about his story this way. But the problem at the heart of it is quite real.
    All elements in a story should form a unit and contribute to the main story. They shouldn't be in it if they don't further the plot.

    I think most writers will experience this problem in one of two ways, depending on their writing process.
    If they plan ahead before they write their story:
    "For this to happen then this needs to happen and for this 3 other things need to happen, and for those 3 things to happen, 9 other things need to happen and for those 9 things to happen..."
    If they don't plan ahead before writing:
    "Damn, the thing I originally wanted to happen can't happen anymore because I made this other thing happen to resolve the other thing that happened that I wrote to make the other thing happen."

    The obvious answer to it is to try to keep the number of elements as low as possible, but that isn't exactly easy either and requires a great deal of planning.
    Let's say you have two characters, but you only really need one of them, then it's best to leave the other one out.
    But that results in a humongous amount of planning.


    So as I stated earlier this problem is something I'm struggling with. Particularly with my own AAR. The second chapter of which I hope I'll be able to begin posting within a week. One of the reasons why this complexity problem is so significant to me is that I try to align real history, ingame events and story pacing as perfectly as possible.
    I'm probably making it harder for me than it has to be. But it's also necessary to a certain degree, to make sure that everything fits. It's really like drawing a puzzle. It's easy enough to come up with the individual pieces, but it's hard to put them together in a way that makes sense.
    Derc put it well once when he said it's best to limit oneself and try to not make it about everything.
    I'm no good at that. And I'm not willing to give up on my fantasy of a perfect plot even though I know it's unattainable.
    There are lots of things I want to include and I want to do so in the most efficient way possible, so readers don't get confused.
    With chapter 2 I'm already feeling this increased complexity, but with the plot for that chapter mostly planned out I'm mostly concerned for what lies ahead.

    I've experimented with mind maps and recently thinking about making an offline wiki to organise my thoughts.
    Do you guys have any experience with these or do you have any other tools you use?
    And how do you try to keep your story together and avoid plotholes and corners?

  2. #2
    Skotos of Sinope's Avatar Jupiter Give Me Victory
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    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    CG, I used to have a gig which required me to read a lot of speculative fiction. Through this I became acquainted with cyberpunk author Rudy Rucker and his concept of “the gnarl”, the point of complexity between randomness and total predictability. He has this phrase he always repeats, “Seek the gnarl.” He's also a mathematics professor so maybe you're familiar with him. If not, you'll at least be familiar with his concepts. What you said brought back something I vaguely remember of his, and maybe it's a useful way to think about what the problem is that you're encountering. Now you're the engineer, not me, so some of this is a bit out of my depth. I don't think I'll shock anyone to say I don't think about complexity theory on a daily basis. I could be getting some of this wrong. Just humor me.

    Rucker wrote that the two extremes of complexity in matter are a crystal and a gas. Living organisms and novels lie midpoint between highly organized but low complexity crystal, and highly disordered but high complexity gas. He wrote: "They’re organized, but not regimented. They’re disorderly but not completely [explitive deleted] up." I'm probably butchering this to high hell, but he said that the Joseph Campbell hero's journey “monomyth” is something like a shortest-path algorithm between these states. It's a strange attractor that stories will eventually settle into. In his explanation of the "gnarl", he referenced Stephen Wolfram's cellular automata:

    Quote Originally Posted by Rudy Rucker
    Having studied a very large number of visually interesting computations called cellular automata, Wolfram concluded that there are basically three kinds of computations and three corresponding kinds of natural processes.

    Predictable. Processes that are ultimately without surprise. This may be because they eventually die out and become constant, or because they’re repetitive. Think of a checkerboard, or a clock, or a fire that burns down to dead ashes.

    Gnarly. Processes that are structured in interesting ways but are nonetheless unpredictable. Here we think of a vine, or a waterfall, or the startling yet computable digits of pi, or the flow of your thoughts.

    Random. Processes that are completely messy and unstructured. Think of the molecules eternally bouncing off each other in air, or the cosmic rays from outer space.

    The gnarly middle zone is where it’s at. Essentially all of the interesting patterns in physics and biology are gnarly. Gnarly processes hold out the lure of being partially understandable, but they resist falling into dull predictability.
    I'd suggest that the problem you are having is not that your work is too complex, it's that it's too ordered. I think you are ending more on the “crystal” side of order rather than on the “gas”. I think you realize this too but can't find a way out of it. You're in a prison of your own planning. And you think the solution is to plan your way out.

    Adding more elements doesn't necessarily mean more difficult to control. You know the beginning. You know the end. Don't try to limit the elements in advance. Write it. Write at least a good chunk of it. Two chapters isn't enough. Look at what you've written. See if you can simplify it. Rinse, repeat. You're not facing a complexity problem. You're facing an optimization problem.

    That's how I've gone about it. I've had to balance three different time frames setting up a story that will span decades, will probably include just under a dozen main characters, is theoretically written in one ancient language by someone trying to decipher another ancient language, trying to make sense of conflicting archeological data, fragmentary evidence and cultural bias in the original sources...it's overwhelming. One of the ways I keep it manageable is I don't look at my outline unless I forget something. When I do I always find that I've killed two birds with one stone several times without knowing it.

    All fiction is in a sense irreducibly complex. You can't hold it all in your head. An offline wiki may not hurt, but it also may allow you to weave more strands in a spider's web that you'll get stuck in. You need to turn off your engineer's brain. Eugene O'Neill struggled for years to plot out an interlocking sequence of plays that were adaptations of one of the Ancient Greek tragic cycles (I forget which). It was going to be his masterpiece. Finally he gave up, and in his despair threw all his notes away and wrote A Long Day's Journey Into Night: a story of one family in one house, over the course of one night. And that turned out to be his real masterpiece.
    Last edited by Skotos of Sinope; February 14, 2019 at 04:48 PM.

  3. #3

    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    First of all, I absolutely LOVE that you tried to mathematically map plot-complexity Cookiegod! You're a madman!

    Now to the real points. I think you have a lot of interesting ideas, and I also think Skotos' assessment is probably largely correct. It seems to me that you may be trying to get too much aligned at the outset, when it may be more fruitful to let the story organically get out of control, and then see how you can organically reign it in.

    Regarding how complexity unfolds, I find that it can be good to introduce more and more as the story goes on, to build off of what the reader already knows. At the outset, they know nothing, and you should give them bits and pieces, and only a handful of characters and plot lines. However, as things move along they will become familiar with everything, and it will simply become necessary to increase complexity just to keep them interested (to use Skotos' ideas, to avoid things becoming stagnant or repetitive). For my own story, I have been trying to do this in a rather straightforward fashion, by slowly adding in new characters and plot lines with each chapter. Now I have the desert army, the general situation in Saba', and the palace intrigue there as well. However, this gets to the point where things seem like they might start spiraling out of control. At this point I think there is one big tool that a writer can make use of, which I will spoiler as it might give things away:

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    You need to kill off plot lines. That might necessitate killing characters, or just eliminating certain driving forces, but that is the way you keep things interesting while clamping complexity. And you can see that in some stories too. Take George R. R. Martin. Too many characters, things getting out of hand... have a wedding where everyone in the family is murdered. And heck, have the remainder hunted down afterward. It's still a nasty mess with everything that's going on, but you can cut out a lot of stuff in that moment. And if the eliminations follow the previously set up characters or plots well, then it all flows and makes sense as well. I think that is where the big planning needs to go in; in deciding where you will simplify, and how.


    Another thing I think is important is to plan smaller story arcs, and then conclude those, dropping the characters from those arcs afterward if need be. For my story I have tried to conceptualize it in 6 main books, each of which will have its own flow and main points, and each of which will include its own set of secondary and perhaps tertiary characters in it. Once book 1 is done, some people from there will be left behind as the main protagonists move forward, and that will simplify things and give me the room to add new characters and subplots. But beyond this level of planning I try to let things just go organically, with me trying to figure out what my characters would do (seriously, I plan very little for them; I am almost exclusively trying to "discover" what they would do).

    The only other thing I would say is a suggestion about how to organize your thoughts. For my current chapter (and probably the next one as well) there are things going on in a bunch of separate subplots, and I am trying to sort out how to keep it all organized. In order to keep the story straight, and to simplify the general exposition, I want every scene to be chronologically aligned with the others, such that if scene 2 comes after scene 1, then scene 2 also occurs after scene 1 (no flashbacks or anything like that). That can help with simplifying things, but that means that for the current chapter I have to figure out when everything is happening in relation to the other things. To that end I have written a small blurb for each scene on flashcards, one scene per card, and I have just shuffled them about on the table to map out when things will happen. It is crude and simple, but I find it to be a helpful and tangible way to map the future of the story. Just a thought.
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  4. #4
    Skotos of Sinope's Avatar Jupiter Give Me Victory
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    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    Quote Originally Posted by Kilo11 View Post
    For my current chapter (and probably the next one as well) there are things going on in a bunch of separate subplots, and I am trying to sort out how to keep it all organized. In order to keep the story straight, and to simplify the general exposition, I want every scene to be chronologically aligned with the others, such that if scene 2 comes after scene 1, then scene 2 also occurs after scene 1 (no flashbacks or anything like that). That can help with simplifying things, but that means that for the current chapter I have to figure out when everything is happening in relation to the other things.
    I was thinking about this, because you mentioned it to me before. You seem to have a good angle of attack now for dealing with it, so maybe this advice is unnecessary now. But I was going to ask: how important is it that all the storylines happen simultaneously? Because if you're finding it to be more trouble than it's worth, you can always align things based on story beats and not chronological sequence. The author that you mentioned in spoilers actually did that with his series. If you line up the series of events (And I'm not just referring to the last two novels where it's one novel broken in two.) you'll see things are often out of order, but you don't know it because the chapters are broken up into separate character view points and separated by long distances. Now if it's important to WiS that it's chronological, that's okay too. Just saying you have options.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kilo11 View Post
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    You need to kill off plot lines. That might necessitate killing characters, or just eliminating certain driving forces, but that is the way you keep things interesting while clamping complexity. And you can see that in some stories too. Take George R. R. Martin. Too many characters, things getting out of hand... have a wedding where everyone in the family is murdered. And heck, have the remainder hunted down afterward. It's still a nasty mess with everything that's going on, but you can cut out a lot of stuff in that moment. And if the eliminations follow the previously set up characters or plots well, then it all flows and makes sense as well. I think that is where the big planning needs to go in; in deciding where you will simplify, and how.
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Hahah. Kill your darlings. You know, Stephen King did something similar with The Stand. He realized he had too many point of view characters and they were too much to keep track of, so he blew some of them. (And we say GRRM likes to kill his characters.)


    Agreed on the smaller story arcs, and cycling minor characters in and out. I like how Bernard Cornwell does that with his Last Kingdom series. For my own, I've decided on four books each with a specific theme and antagonist.

    Anyway, CG, I don't know enough about your plot as it stands to offer any specific advice. And I don't want to tell you to give up on your ambitions for the story. I definitely don't want to say “dial down your expectations” and settle for a shadow of the story you wanted to tell. That might kill your passion. I'm just saying that I believe you are capable of doing a little “flying by the seat of your pants” writing as well, and that can be a tool in your tool box.

  5. #5

    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    Thanks for your replies guys, I agree with a lot of what you say, but not entirely.
    I’ll go through them below. Watch out for the content boxes, they've got even more text in them. Smart people skip them!

    CG, I used to have a gig which required me to read a lot of speculative fiction. Through this I became acquainted with cyberpunk author Rudy Rucker and his concept of “the gnarl”, the point of complexity between randomness and total predictability. He has this phrase he always repeats, “Seek the gnarl.” He's also a mathematics professor so maybe you're familiar with him. If not, you'll at least be familiar with his concepts. What you said brought back something I vaguely remember of his, and maybe it's a useful way to think about what the problem is that you're encountering. Now you're the engineer, not me, so some of this is a bit out of my depth. I don't think I'll shock anyone to say I don't think about complexity theory on a daily basis. I could be getting some of this wrong. Just humor me.

    Rucker wrote that the two extremes of complexity in matter are a crystal and a gas. Living organisms and novels lie midpoint between highly organized but low complexity crystal, and highly disordered but high complexity gas. He wrote: "They’re organized, but not regimented. They’re disorderly but not completely [explitive deleted] up." I'm probably butchering this to high hell, but he said that the Joseph Campbell hero's journey “monomyth” is something like a shortest-path algorithm between these states. It's a strange attractor that stories will eventually settle into.
    I know next to nothing about Rudy Ruckers, Cyberpunk and very little about the monomyth and the gnarl, but if I understand you correctly (and I think you explained it very well and I love the math in it!), then his point is about a story having to find a middle ground between predictability and randomness. Well, I totally agree with that. I’d come with another example for that (Newtonian vs. quantum physics), but this post is gonna get long enough as it is.
    …so instead of shutting up about it, let me put it in a content box for y’all to skip.
    Newtonian vs quantum physics
    We all learned Newtonian physics in school. But here’s the deal: It’s completely bollox, and has been disproved by quantum physics.
    Let’s say you have a ball that you are shooting at something. If you have perfect aim and according to Newtonian physics, the ball will go exactly where you shoot it. Do the same experiment with a particle. It can go anywhere, though with differing likelihoods. That’s completely contradicting Newton’s laws. So why do we still use Newton’s laws? And why doesn’t the ball do the same when it’s entirely made of particles?
    Because the number of particles is so huge that the random outcomes of the individual particles cancel each other out. I faintly remember doing the calculations on a football shot from 11m at a goal. And the likelihood that the ball would deviate even 1mm from its goal because of quantum physics was so small that it’s extremely unlikely to happen even once in the course of humanity. Still an awesome excuse for a nerd whose aim isn’t exactly perfect though!

    Point being: If your elements all are random, they’ll most likely end up cancelling each other out and your story will end up nowhere. So yeah, your story needs to be complex enough for the reader that he’ll be engaged, entertained and not able to predict everything, but also not so complex that it’s confusing, hard to get into, or lack that direction altogether.
    “For the reader” is what I’m having my issue with here: That’s the endproduct you’re talking about (unless I misunderstood). I was talking about the complexity of your story as a WIP, and I think you make a mistake by assuming they are one and the same.
    Things can have different aspects that are complex, but that doesn’t mean this complexity for each of those is the same. The complexity of the gnarl seems to be the result you are aiming for. The complexity I talk about is basically Murphy’s Law of all the ways your story can either go off the rails or crash completely. It’s about the unknown.
    This is why I invented that formula for the complexity of a story I mentioned in the first post: For a total number of m elements in it, with n elements you as the writer want to develop, I argued the complexity being n*m, as all elements can have an impact on any of those you try to develop. But that makes no sense when you are talking about the finished product. What interacts with what and in what way is already clear there.
    The interactions I talk about are partly constructive (pacing, etc.), but mostly it’s about Murphy’s law: You want to avoid plot holes and contradictions. The more interactions you have, the more things can and will go wrong. The fact that this number increases exponentially for the number of elements you have is thus a rather big deal.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that there are two different extremes in stories: Plot driven vs. Character driven stories. Both have the potential to be very complex, but since they’re opposite each other, so are the appropriate ways of handling them. A pure complex plot driven story HAS TO be planned out. For a pure character driven story that’s not only impossible, it’s downright detrimental.
    It’s like horses vs. carts. Both get you from A to B, but the former has to be nurtured and fed until it’s strong enough to haul your fat A to B, whereas if you don’t plan the latter, the only place that thing is going to go is to the scrap yard of ideas.

    Btw... Horses remind me of something.



    I think I heard about Stephen King once that he was asked about planning and answered that he did almost none of that, and never having read any of his work, I can understand why it’s perfect for his style, because he, like many great writers, probably focuses on characters.
    Masters I’m more familiar with are e.g. Dostoyevskyi, Tolstoy and Chekhov.
    Dostoyevskyi will make you not only follow, not only empathise with, but also completely understand the protagonist. That protagonist can go completely mad or even commit cold blooded, extensively premeditated murder, and you as the reader will be like: Yeah, makes totally sense. I might do the same. Now where’s my knife?
    Those writers were that great at their craft that the entire scientific craft of psychoanalysis is built on them. Freud and Jung didn’t have that many or that perfectly distilled, yet completely realistic patients. So they went ahead and analysed the characters of those novels instead!
    But there are limits to that: G.R.R.M never planned his fantasy series, and now he’s admitting to using fan wikipedia’s online. If that’s not a sign that he’s totally lost, I don’t know what is.
    Though again: I haven’t read much of his work either. Already having seen some of the first episodes of the series, I knew who’d shag whom and had to put those books away after the first very few pages to suppress my gag reflex when I found out how young those children are supposed to be…


    Anyway… MOVING ON!
    There’s a second issue to his book series that fits what we’re doing very well: He can’t go back and change his story in his previous books, since those are already published. He can only go forward. We also can’t do that all the time since, well, we’re also already publishing it in even smaller chunks.
    The great thing about first drafts is that they’re almost completely wrong, and you rewrite it all until there’s almost nothing in it that remains the same. We don’t have that option, or only to a very limited degree.
    And then, if we go back to the gnarl Skotos is referring to, it also depends on how complicated the story itself is. If it’s really simple, and even if it’s entirely plot driven like “Transformers” (That one I did watch! Patting myself on the back here…), then the only thing you might need to plan out is the amount of product placement you can squeeze in.
    But if you look at for example Christopher Nolan’s movies, then it’s evident that he did plan it out, even though he, in addition to the obvious plot, also focusses a lot on character development as well.

    And another thing that also has an impact is the creative freedom you have. The more you’re making it up freely, the less sense it makes to plan at all. But the more things you have to fit in, the more you need to have some structure in it.
    Just because you (think you…) “know the beginning and the end of your story” doesn’t mean you’ll end up there automatically. That’s a fallacy that can get you into trouble.
    The “just write” and make stuff work as you go along only works if you a) are able to go back and correct, AND b) know you’ll hit somewhere near the mark, since if you miss your target completely you’ll have to start from scratch. You want to make only one first draft, not 5 of them. Then it’s a waste of time that might very well happen if you suddenly realise you have a contradiction in your story that cannot be fixed by changing almost everything. It’s like those 10000 monkeys sitting and typing randomly to get Shakespeare right.
    So yeah, there are advantages and disadvantages to both of these approaches. I totally agree with Skotos that you can plan yourself to death; that you can cause yourself to get stuck mentally in a writer’s block; or just have it as an excuse to procrastinate and never get anything done ever.
    Planning can never replace writing itself. It can however 1) vastly improve the result and also 2) reduce the amount of time spent. It should only be done for those two reasons. Otherwise one should simply write.
    Ultimately, given that most of the time our stories are a mix of plot and characters, the approach to writing it should ideally reflect that fact as well. Skotos, your own approach with an outline and then simply writing, which you mention, be it intentionally or unconscious, does exactly that.

    But even though the general ideas behind the AARs of Skotos and me are quite similar, the circumstances are much more different. You are more or less playing as you go ahead, and are doing so single player, which means you can change your play accordingly, I on the other hand did so in MP years ago and had only limited influence on the game.
    The geographical and time scope of our projects are also different, as you only have to deal with Italy at a specific moment in time, whereas I am not only trying to reference both in game and real events from Scotland to the middle east, but also many characters and events that are completely outside the timeframe, to pay homage to certain things and stories, and also many fictional episodes that I sometimes got in my sleep or otherwise, that I’d like to include as well.
    Another interesting thing is that I don’t know how my story is going to end. I simply can’t. I have a vague notion how I right now think it might end, but because I don’t want to compromise on character just to push a certain plot I’m rather certain that it’ll go differently. I have three kids and one of them shall become him, that’s the premise. I’ll develop them and see which one grows into him.
    So my problem is definitely not too much clarity, since I’m lazy and haven’t done nearly as much as I might let on, but rather scope and ambition.

    I think Skotos is right with me having to settle for less, except that here again I think I'm ok with leaving stuff out, I just want to be efficient and find out how much I can keep and how much I have to throw out.

    And this comes also with another limitation, which is that there are only so many distractions one can have in his story.
    Which is where I can also start going into what Kilo wrote: So let’s say you introduce a new character, whom you kill of shortly after. A no-brainer for most people, but my engineering brain makes me ask myself how efficient I can be. How much can I pack into him in the simplest, most elegant way possible?
    So let’s say I introduce a noble for character development. Instead of making one completely up, I’d try to use one of the historic great families that existed, and also try to pin him to some character that existed in the game. So that’s 3 birds with one stone: Narration, AAR, and history.
    There are many great Italian families that had so spectacularly weird or illustrious characters in the Renaissance, who got eternalized in various pieces of art, such as Dante’s Divina Comedia.
    For those families I’d find the name of the character that lived in the correct timeframe (late 11th century), of whom often little is known. Instead of embracing that I’d try to give him the personality of a much later offspring of his family.
    That’s just one example and I can’t go into that too much, but you get the gist.
    Basically, what I do is a mix of a puzzle and some engineering. I try to get as many of my pieces into the story as possible.
    Next thing is that I’d like to avoid killing characters for the wrong reasons as much as possible.
    This is where I’ reference to Chekhov’s gun once more. That principle is always a good one to follow, but for this story it’s basically a necessity. If that element doesn’t serve a purpose, it’s distracting, and thus diminishing the quality. I might be a bit of a puritan with this, but note that I’m not specifying what purpose that should be. That’s entirely up to the writer. But it shouldn’t be to resolve a plot hole and thereby inadvertedly create 5 new ones. And because I already want to put so much in, that also means that I need to keep everything that’s unnecessary out, so that there’s enough room for those.
    The advice by killo to kill one’s (see what I did there?) darlings is a sound one that’s originally from Faulkner. But to be perfectly honest: I prefer using protection to smothering my babies with a pillow.

    Next thing is structure:
    Kilo hit’s a perfect note when he talks about the arcs. I very much agree with that. And that has a huge influence on the way I’m handling chapter 2 (chapter 1 was done with 0 planning whatsoever, and that’s how I realised I absolutely needed one for the second one).
    An important thing to note here is that there’s no law requiring people to have chapters in their stories. So the same rule should apply to them as to the elements as well: They should contribute to the main story, but also be a subunit with a purpose, a theme, a beginning and an end as well. I think all of those are easy to see in chapter 1 of my AAR. I think even without having seen chapter 2 you can agree that this was a good spot to end the first one.
    Skotos’ AAR, even though I’m very much behind, and even though to my knowledge the first those books isn’t done yet, seems to do the same: You have a first enemy in Brennus, but it’s also about the protagonist in these letters to find himself, and for the consul in the other story line to get on track.
    So how am I planning my story? Well, I haven’t figured it all out yet. This is why I’m asking.
    But so far I did this: I have a vague notion, something similar to an outline. I have a list of in game events, and then a second list of things I want included. But I am on purpose not planning it out too much, because I want to remain flexible and not make the characters do stuff that’s contradicts their nature. Those children in chapter 1 are still very young. So their characters aren’t set yet. And instead of saying: This dude got this and this trait, I want to find out who they are just like the reader does, by seeing how they act in those situations.
    For chapter 2 however I’ve already defined the purpose, the theme and thereby also the beginning and the end. Then I went on to write a list of 15 things that needs to happen for the story to get there. Each point in that list is a part. For each of those I wrote a quick paragraph explaining what I need there to happen. And only then do I switch to simply writing each part.
    That’s something I got blindsided by in chapter 1. I did not know what the theme was, and simply wrote those parts (which btw. are much harder for me than I let on, as English isn’t my first language and it’s hard to get into a flow in a different language when you’re thinking and living your life in another one – something like starting your car in very, very cold weather).
    I think chapter 1 worked out fine as it did, because it didn’t have much plot. You can summarise what happens there in just one sentence. The focus was almost entirely on character development.
    What triggered me to open this thread was that I, just like Skotos, have two storylines that are told concurrently. As said earlier: I have only vague notions of both story lines. But those two need to be synchronised. I had to make sure I wouldn’t jump ahead with the first one when the other was still a bit behind. The reason why that triggered me is because it forced me to look a bit more detailed on the storyline beyond chapter two. Which again, I was reluctant to do because I wanted to keep it simple. So the irony here isn’t that I’m too much on the clarity side that triggered me. It’s me trying to avoid it.
    Another reason was that I wanted to hear the specific tools you people use. The more things you use, the harder it is to still know what needs to happen when and where, because some things need to happen before it some only after. Kilos advice with the flashcards is a very good one.
    When I started the thread, I was already planning on doing it engineering and project management style. But part of the reason why I opened the thread was that I was reluctant to go all in. I think I might have to do so.
    Flow charts and wikipedias are probably the way to go. I have to be perfectly honest and say that I’m only starting to use those. I have of course used flowcharts before (but not for creative writing), but the personal wikipedia is completely new to me.
    Hey, you know what we haven’t had for a while?
    A content box with completely unnecessary rambling about why a perfect story is like the building I worked on! Smart people don’t open it, but I promised that I’d do that to you a long time ago!
    Creative Writing is like Civil Engineering
    So doing a complete static analysis of this building was what I was busy with lately:



    It’s quite big. It doesn’t look much from the outside. It’s basically a box. Just like a story should be. It should be based on a very simple core concept that everyone can easily get and get into. Like: Hey, my evil ex is stalking me. Will you please face the unspeakable evil to drop my wedding ring into the volcano half a continent away while I hide and write my memoirs? Thanks! Btw. I haven't actually read LotR, so I'm not sure I got this right...


    This is the building from the inside. It’s not quite as boring as you’d expect from the outside. Quite the opposite, really. Your story should be just like that. Seek the Gollum… I mean… the gnarl.
    But wait… those cantilevers are scary. Should one put extra supports underneath them?
    Nah. That’d force us to do more work. Instead, let’s make sure the steel support structure is evenly spaced out to make it easy to us. And let’s place the cantilevers only seemingly random, directly over the supports. Your story should be just like that. Complex enough to entertain the reader but easy for you.
    And look at the concrete walls. Do you see them? Nope, because we hid them and have as few of them as possible! My replies should also have less text walls!

    Why do we have concrete walls at all in a building that’s mostly carried by a steel structure? Well, to take care of horizontal forces. Your story should be just like that. Everything should have a purpose.

    And this, dear friends, is why the best writers are engineers. Unfortunately I can’t name a single one of those.

    And another one for good luck!
    Because why not?!


    See what you made me do to you?! That's why I have to be careful!
    Last edited by Cookiegod; February 19, 2019 at 01:42 PM.

  6. #6

    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    There is a massive amount of stuff there, and I won't even attempt to respond to all of it (fool that I am, I also opened every contentbox and read it to the bitter end, cause I'm a completionist!). You said toward the end that you wanted to mainly here our thoughts and methods though, and so I'll say a bit more about how I go about things. Perhaps take it with a grain of salt though, as my story (and general writing style) is a lot more linear and simple than either yours or Skotos'. Also, I am aiming to keep all scenes chronologically ordered along a single axis which should also make it all simpler (i.e. everything is aligned with the "true" line of time [whatever the hell that might be - I also have some knowledge of elementary mechanics and the ways we (don't) understand things like space, time, or matter]). So here are my ways of going about stuff.

    The flashcards idea is something very new to me, that I only am using because the current chapter has... ... 7 separate character lines being followed, and I needed to make sure the scenes fit together right, and also still held a nice stylistic flow (can't have 3 action sequences in succession, followed by 10 description/character development scenes). However, in general, I plan only the largest structures of the plot out (the foundations and general shape of the structure; in your case, a box). Then I know where I'm coming from and where I'm going. For everything in between, I just let my characters lead me along. Honestly, most of what I do is taking a lot time at the beginning to envision real fully developed characters with histories and personalities, and then simply taking time throughout to figure out what they would do. There are certain types of action that Mun'at would do but Mubsamat wouldn't (Sorry to readers here who are unfamiliar with my AAR. But if you are one such, then make yourself familiar by hitting the link in my sig ). There are also certain reactions that one or the other would have to things that others do to them. By letting them lead me along, I find I don't need to plan much actually.

    The one drawback to that is that sometimes the way the plot is going will force the character to do something that I can't have them do (because of things that "need" to happen later on). Worse still, sometimes the way the plot needs to go will force them to do things that I can't have them do. This can be tricky, but I find that even in these situations not all is lost. What I do then is simply skip the scene that would force the character to do something I cannot have, and then afterward explain that it worked out the way I needed it to, without going into to too much detail, as then the reader might see my quick readjustment. As an example, if you recall the interrogation scene of Mubsamat, you had said to me you thought it would be worthwhile to include that as it could be used to good effect for developing her character. However, I never did put that scene in, instead having a "lead-up" scene and and "afterward" scene. The reason I didn't include that scene was because I myself couldn't imagine it unfolding in any fashion such that the interrogators didn't kill Mubsamat at the end. That is simply the only thing I could see happening after their interrogation. More specifically, I figured that anything they might do to get her to talk would put them too far over the edge to leave her alive. However, readers might very well be able to imagine some sequence of events that could fit between there, or they could simply take as given what I wrote, that she was interrogated and then let free without any harm done. By not drawing too much attention to my avoidance of the scene, I (seemingly) got away with that move, but even if one thinks about it carefully, I haven't done anything properly wrong there anyway. I don't explain how it works out, but it's not my job to explain everything, so long as there are not moves that one can see clearly don't make sense.

    So to sum up, I think that it can be nice to just follow your characters around and let them do what they would do (which is no mean task itself, as you need to really get yourself to understand them in a deep way). Having the plot in the back of your head is good, to keep it aligned along the main direction of the story, but the bits between can be left free to develop as they will. I think that this will also make character development fit into the story in a really natural way, because by you understanding your characters more, they'll by default be more believable and thought through, and their actions will always demonstrate some aspect of their personality, as their actions are the result of their personality, and not your plot planning.

    But again, all of this is just my two cents (or maybe four cents; there's a bit here, to be fair ).
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  7. #7

    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    I hope I didn't steamroll you guys too much.

    Kilo, I find it very interesting that you started planning for the very same reason I did. It's easier at the beginning, but suddenly you have more elements to take care of.
    And yes you are right. It's better to balance the parts out. That's something I failed a bit in Chapter 1 in my story. The original intention was to keep alternating between the two, but I found out I couldn't do that straight away.
    You say your story is very straightforward, and to a certain degree maybe. But 7 concurrent story lines and points of view are a lot. So your story isn't necessarily less complicated than ours. The challenge with story lines are mostly the same, whether they take place at the same time or not.

    I agree with you that you don't have to share everything (I've shown you guys what'd go wrong if you do so). Information control is key.
    However, I disagree with your sentiment that you didn't do anything wrong with the torture scene: Not only did it cause you to miss a great opportunity and Mubsamat's character to fall short of her potential (since the scene really would've been defining), I also mainly noticed it because I, like you, couldn't make sense out of it. Of course, that might be me paying far more attention than is desirable... ...but it did feel like a huge plothole to me. I'm lagging behind now, so I don't know how you resolved that one.
    One cause for youor predicament might've been this:
    Honestly, most of what I do is taking a lot time at the beginning to envision real fully developed characters with histories and personalities, and then simply taking time throughout to figure out what they would do.
    As I elaborated earlier, I believe that plots should be planned, but characters should be grown. A planned character will always feel fake, because real ones are, to quote Skotos, "irreducably complex". I'd wager that after you had preplanned your character and started writing, and in spite of thinking you had your character figured out, you were nevertheless and perhaps subconsciously growing her to a certain degree. And then you had that collision between the grown and the planned character.
    I'm not saying that to beat a dead horse, but those might collide later again.
    As to how the Qail could've been stopped from killing her: Well why do all his allies have to be unconditional? Some might've been against her but still have respected her, and killing her would've caused him a lot of trouble.

    All this criticism is of course easy for me to do, when I don't write that much and thus have allowed my illusion of perfectionism to persist... ^^

    Anyway, as I said earlier, flashcards are an excellent idea. I'm starting out with draw.io now, which Derc recommended to me. I think it might be the perfect tool and I recommend it to you as well. Doing it digitally has some advantages. You can put some arrows if you like and you can look it up later, which is harder when you put the flash cards away. But other than that the approach is very identical.

    Fun fact: Well in Chapter 1 I really had only 4 people with agency (I didn't have to "get" characters who were merely being acted upon) and only 2 points of view (each character pov takes obviously more effort since you have to spell their motivations out).
    In chapter 2 I'll have at least 15 characters with agency and 4 points of view. Which is one aspect in which my story might be easier than yours, as you have 7.

  8. #8

    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    This thread is in itself a problem of complexity.

    Jokes aside, I think you've all addressed most of the points here, I don't really have much to add, except that I find the points you've highlighted very relatable, CG. I myself am experiencing similar feelings in my own Med 2 AAR.

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  9. #9

    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    Quote Originally Posted by Cookiegod View Post
    However, I disagree with your sentiment that you didn't do anything wrong with the torture scene: Not only did it cause you to miss a great opportunity and Mubsamat's character to fall short of her potential (since the scene really would've been defining), I also mainly noticed it because I, like you, couldn't make sense out of it. Of course, that might be me paying far more attention than is desirable... ...but it did feel like a huge plothole to me. I'm lagging behind now, so I don't know how you resolved that one.
    One cause for youor predicament might've been this:
    Quote Originally Posted by Kilo11
    Honestly, most of what I do is taking a lot time at the beginning to envision real fully developed characters with histories and personalities, and then simply taking time throughout to figure out what they would do.

    As I elaborated earlier, I believe that plots should be planned, but characters should be grown. A planned character will always feel fake, because real ones are, to quote Skotos, "irreducably complex". I'd wager that after you had preplanned your character and started writing, and in spite of thinking you had your character figured out, you were nevertheless and perhaps subconsciously growing her to a certain degree. And then you had that collision between the grown and the planned character.
    I'm not saying that to beat a dead horse, but those might collide later again.
    As to how the Qail could've been stopped from killing her: Well why do all his allies have to be unconditional? Some might've been against her but still have respected her, and killing her would've caused him a lot of trouble.
    Well, I do hope you at some point can have a look again and see what you think. But there is one thing I should clarify with the quoted text you mentioned above. I didn't mean I get the characters set, but rather that I get a full idea of exactly who they are at the start of the story. Throughout they will change a lot, but I have to know who they are to begin with to know how they will change with each event. The issue there was not that I had two Mubsamat's that I couldn't reconcile, but that I couldn't imagine my way through the interrogation in a way that would leave her alright at the end. Readers, however, might be able to do that just fine. I mean, you said you also couldn't imagine how that could work out, but then you right afterward figured out a potential way (the co-conspirators could hold the Qayl back a bit, or make clear that they aren't willing to cross certain lines that he is prepared to cross). I find that if you can come up with that explanation, then you (probably/hopefully) won't be hung up on it too long, whereas if I bull my way through a scene I'm not convinced by that will come across really evidently. I think giving the reader some work is alright, especially if it is work that you think they'll do better than you

    Regarding your chapter 2, do you have a way to gently and gradually introduce all of these characters, or will they come in a flood? I think your characters are easier to keep separated than mine, simply because the name sets are things we are more familiar with and can sort out in our heads, but I would still be concerned that with that many we might get lost. Something to keep in mind.
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  10. #10

    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    The issue there was not that I had two Mubsamat's that I couldn't reconcile, but that I couldn't imagine my way through the interrogation in a way that would leave her alright at the end. Readers, however, might be able to do that just fine.
    I don't agree with that. If even the author can't make this work, then it's unlikely the reader can. It's one thing if it's a tiny detail or if the author has an answer but for any reason chooses not to include it. As for the characters, you kind of contradict your self. If you put your characters in an impossible spot where you can't feel they could react the way you planned it, how's that not a conflict between the planned and the felt character?
    you said you also couldn't imagine how that could work out, but then you right afterward figured out a potential way (the co-conspirators could hold the Qayl back a bit, or make clear that they aren't willing to cross certain lines that he is prepared to cross). I find that if you can come up with that explanation, then you (probably/hopefully) won't be hung up on it too long, whereas if I bull my way through a scene I'm not convinced by that will come across really evidently.
    Thing is though that my explanation is more like an alternative. It didn't feel to me like he had to worry like that. The way you portrayed that directly contradicted that.
    But my point wasn't so much to prove to you that it could be done better and I understand why you did so, but rather to say that if when I get into this situation (and I'm sure I will) I think I'll either a) go back and change as much as is necessary for the outcome to make sense, or b) roll with it. So the alternative would be to have her die and have a sister plotting revenge or something.

    Just to make sure that it's not misunderstood: It's really not about Mubsamat herself, it's really more because she's an excellent example for the kind of situation which I think we're all doomed to fall in very often. And of course most people are less sensible to plot holes and it makes no sense to use me as a standard. I'm a plot hole nazi. Whenever you see those in OWaP, do report them to the authorities.
    Regarding your chapter 2, do you have a way to gently and gradually introduce all of these characters, or will they come in a flood? I think your characters are easier to keep separated than mine, simply because the name sets are things we are more familiar with and can sort out in our heads, but I would still be concerned that with that many we might get lost. Something to keep in mind.
    Excellent question. I didn't even think of that. I went look into my outline for the chapter and I don't see any pattern with regards to that. So it's somewhat random, but on the other hand there aren't that many new ones... 6 of them have already been introduced in chapter 1.

    While I checked, I noticed something else: Both chapter 1 and 2, and in both cases unintentionally, follow the whale pattern:

    It's kind of interesting because I didn't even think of that. I merely started out by knowing the theme and purpose of that chapter, compiled a list of things I wanted to happen and then looked how many of those things I could make happen in as few parts as possible. For chapter 1, I didn't even do that. I still ended up doing exactly this. It kind of answers your question regarding the characters since, when you have an exposition, that solves that problem as well. Many of them get mentioned before they appear, so that should kind of make it easier for people to remember.
    Last edited by Cookiegod; February 21, 2019 at 12:54 PM.

  11. #11
    Skotos of Sinope's Avatar Jupiter Give Me Victory
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    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    Quote Originally Posted by Cookiegod View Post
    So how am I planning my story? Well, I haven’t figured it all out yet. This is why I’m asking.
    But so far I did this: I have a vague notion, something similar to an outline. I have a list of in game events, and then a second list of things I want included. But I am on purpose not planning it out too much, because I want to remain flexible and not make the characters do stuff that’s contradicts their nature.*



    *So the irony here isn’t that I’m too much on the clarity side that triggered me. It’s me trying to avoid it.

    CG, I think I had you pegged wrong. I guess you weren't over-planning so I take that back.

    Let me know how the digital flash card software works for you. I'm still saying to be careful. You haven't made the over-planning mistake yet, so I'd say don't start. Since we mentioned Stephen King earlier (Yeah, not exactly high literature but he understands the barebones nitty gritty of story-telling.), I should mention something I heard him say about writer's notebooks, which I think applies to any form of note taking. I'm paraphrasing, but I believe he advised against notebooks. He said something to the effect of if you're working from memory, you will only remember the very important stuff, and the chaff will fill naturally fall away. But if you record extraneous stuff, then it will accumulate and accumulate and you can end up even more overwhelmed than you were before.

    One of the reasons the human mind is so prone to stereotypes and logical fallacies is because evolution designed it to reduce the amount of information in the world until it's small enough to be manageable. Myths, hero stories are similar in that they are an attempt to reduce the accumulated wisdom of a culture on how to develop as human being until it's a narrative story that can easily be remembered. Every time I've lost my notes, it's been for the better. Every time I've mapped out a story or play in minute detail, until I know everything that's going to happen, it's been for the worse. Plays are even worse because my professor taught us based on Aristotle's Poetics, that all plays are kind of recursive and self-similar. Aristotle's dramatic structure must be repeated in each act, then in each scene, then in each french scene (A french scene is when one character exits or enters the stage), then in each dramatic act or piece of dialogue. Such structure emerges somewhat naturally if done well. When intentionally done at the outset, it takes all the life out of the play. So that's why I'm a little overly sensitive to over-planning.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kilo11 View Post
    So to sum up, I think that it can be nice to just follow your characters around and let them do what they would do (which is no mean task itself, as you need to really get yourself to understand them in a deep way). Having the plot in the back of your head is good, to keep it aligned along the main direction of the story, but the bits between can be left free to develop as they will. I think that this will also make character development fit into the story in a really natural way, because by you understanding your characters more, they'll by default be more believable and thought through, and their actions will always demonstrate some aspect of their personality, as their actions are the result of their personality, and not your plot planning.*
    Quoting this only to agree with it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cookiegod View Post
    If you put your characters in an impossible spot where you can't feel they could react the way you planned it, how's that not a conflict between the planned and the felt character?
    But this conflict is inevitable and can never be prevented. Bernard Cornwell does this ten times every book. That's how you learn more about your characters. You let them surprise you. You discover they have nuances, that they are more complicated than you thought. As to that scene, even if you don't agree with the “plot hole” of leaving something a mystery, I'd say it's the lesser of two evils to leave something to the imagination of the reader than to show something that strains the reader's credulity. One advantage of leaving something open-ended is that you can set it aside and come back to it later to explain it. It's not a plot hole until someone writes “the end”.

    Anyway, I want to bring up something else to return to the topic at hand. There's something I've been wondering since CG started this thread. Does having more historical information available make things more or less complex? I know that Kilo has less evidence in the record to go on for hellenistic period Arabia, and CG, you have more to go on than I do. Now on the face of it, more research, more information to keep track of, that should increase complexity. But I actually am wondering if having more historical information to research and use might actually make things simpler. It puts up metaphorical guard rails on the highway and limits the variables. I dunno. What do you guys think?
    Last edited by Skotos of Sinope; February 22, 2019 at 11:04 AM.

  12. #12

    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    Quote Originally Posted by Skotos of Sinope View Post
    Anyway, I want to bring up something else to return to the topic at hand. There's something I've been wondering since CG started this thread. Does having more historical information available make things more or less complex? I know that Kilo has less evidence in the record to go on for hellenistic period Arabia, and CG, you have more to go on than I do. Now on the face of it, more research, more information to keep track of, that should increase complexity. But I actually am wondering if having more historical information to research and use might actually make things simpler. It puts up metaphorical guard rails on the highway and limits the variables. I dunno. What do you guys think?
    That's a good question Skotos. Obviously, I cannot answer it completely, as I only have the experience of writing my own work, which involves a very different type of research than yours or Cookiegod's. That is partly due to my focuses, but mainly due to the dearth of any information about that place at that time, which leads to do more research on things closer to the present but which are unlikely to have changed greatly over the last 2,000 years, or to focus the research more on the geography and on the general politics of tribal societies and whatnot. However, I personally find it to usually be simplifying to have something at hand I can use. This is mainly because I hate -- absolutely HATE -- to have big historical inaccuracies, which leads me to want to have things settled by some "fact of the matter". If I have some data, then I can use that to explain things, and also use it to flesh out the world more. If I don't have that, I find myself more apt to hem and haw about things and avoid clear statements, as I don't want to step into a hole.

    Research and data also makes me feel much more confident in my understanding of my characters. You know a lot about Etruscans in the late period of their history, and that knowledge allows you to deftly present what is expected of them, what characters are iconoclastic, or what things just "make sense" to each person. In the same vein, I find it really helpful to be able to say with confidence "She's from a settled country, so she will shy away from X, Y, and Z, and be more apt to do A or B." This allows me to quickly get the idea of a person and understand how they are likely to act in various situations, and also how they might break the mold (in a way that can be made sense of).

    So in general, I think the data is a boon, and can streamline a lot of things and allow us to breathe easily when putting in some detail that might otherwise make us look over our shoulders to see whether historians are gonna stab us in the back.

    Quote Originally Posted by Skotos of Sinope View Post
    But this conflict is inevitable and can never be prevented. Bernard Cornwell does this ten times every book. That's how you learn more about your characters. You let them surprise you. You discover they have nuances, that they are more complicated than you thought. As to that scene, even if you don't agree with the “plot hole” of leaving something a mystery, I'd say it's the lesser of two evils to leave something to the imagination of the reader than to show something that strains the reader's credulity. One advantage of leaving something open-ended is that you can set it aside and come back to it later to explain it. It's not a plot hole until someone writes “the end”.
    Thanks for the support Skotos, and for clarifying a bit more what I meant (I think you know what I am getting at pretty well). Also, thanks for the pushing Cookiegod, as that is also helpful. I might still add in some little details later on to show more of how it could make sense that she got out of it all, but that scene will stay rather as is I think, as any changes within it will likely lead me down a rabbit hole of trying to back-peddle and steer away from what I'd expect. Part of that is also because there are likely a bunch of ways it might make sense, but just that they don't make sense to me, because of my own particular ways of looking at things. For instance, I have principled issues with people being indirect or withholding information without a clear and present reason for that choice, but that is a very common theme in many things. I can never wrap my head around it, because it just seems plain stupid to me, and for that reason I'd never be able to write that into a scene in a compelling way. However, that doesn't make the move any less useful or reasonable, it just shows something about me. (Examples of that kind are all over in Battlestar Galactica, and they make me want to slap the characters [usually the Adamas]) And in reference to the scene with Mubsamat, I have a pretty solid idea of operational security and long-term strategic planning, and so I couldn't imagine well why the Qayl would start on the path he does and then not kill her. But that is again due to my ideas about these things, and there may be perfectly good reasons why he would not kill her. Hell, there might even be bad reasons, but ones that make sense or are compelling. My main point is that (in my opinion) it is alright for the author to leave out certain details and task the reader with filling them in, especially if those are details the author would only be able to incorporate poorly at best.

    This could also be a possible way to cut down on complexity as well. If there is some point that you need in there for plot reasons, but you find it really hard to get in in a compelling way without starting a number of other things that will need later clarification or dispensation with, then you can sometimes just skip the scene and in the next scene say it all worked as you needed it to. Fair enough, that might be a bit cheap sometimes, but it can be good to get a leg up "on the cheap" here and there, if that will spare you extensive writing and rewriting just to get one detail "squared away" with the overall plot. I mean, having it all ship shape is lovely, but having another update for us sometime soon is even better! Get us an update Cook!
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  13. #13
    Skotos of Sinope's Avatar Jupiter Give Me Victory
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    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    Quote Originally Posted by Kilo11 View Post
    For instance, I have principled issues with people being indirect or withholding information without a clear and present reason for that choice, but that is a very common theme in many things. I can never wrap my head around it, because it just seems plain stupid to me, and for that reason I'd never be able to write that into a scene in a compelling way. However, that doesn't make the move any less useful or reasonable, it just shows something about me. (Examples of that kind are all over in Battlestar Galactica, and they make me want to slap the characters [usually the Adamas])
    Now I know why you hated The Last Jedi. (I had the same problem with Vice Admiral Holding-my-tongue.) I wonder how you're going to feel about the next update of LCotT. Sometimes I dangle because it's not the right time for the character to know something. In my defense, I do keep a running list of all the mysteries/unanswered questions that I've raised and have yet to answer. There's five for book one. I've only answered one so far.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kilo11 View Post
    Research and data also makes me feel much more confident in my understanding of my characters. You know a lot about Etruscans in the late period of their history, and that knowledge allows you to deftly present what is expected of them, what characters are iconoclastic, or what things just "make sense" to each person. In the same vein, I find it really helpful to be able to say with confidence "She's from a settled country, so she will shy away from X, Y, and Z, and be more apt to do A or B." This allows me to quickly get the idea of a person and understand how they are likely to act in various situations, and also how they might break the mold (in a way that can be made sense of).

    So in general, I think the data is a boon, and can streamline a lot of things and allow us to breathe easily when putting in some detail that might otherwise make us look over our shoulders to see whether historians are gonna stab us in the back.
    You know, I think what it sounds like you're doing is a little like what Steven Pressfield did with his novel Last of the Amazons. (The historical Amazons of the black sea, not the mythical ones.) There was very little real information so he just looked at similar horse cultures to fill in the gaps.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kilo11 View Post
    I mean, having it all ship shape is lovely, but having another update for us sometime soon is even better! Get us an update Cook!
    This is the main take away from this thread. We all just want to read chapter two so we're justifying via literary theory why he should just write the damn thing.

  14. #14

    Default Re: The problem of complexity

    Quote Originally Posted by Kilo
    I mean, having it all ship shape is lovely, but having another update for us sometime soon is even better! Get us an update Cook!
    Quote Originally Posted by Skotos
    This is the main take away from this thread. We all just want to read chapter two so we're justifying via literary theory why he should just write the damn thing.
    Everyone here is like:


    Great. If there's one thing I can't handle it's pressure and expectations. Now I'm never gonna publish anything.

    Kidding. Writing isn't the only thing that's going slow though...
    I want to draw something for each part including the previous chapter, and jeez it takes so long for so less than mediocre results.
    You're never gonna learn, are you?!


    And don't even get me started on those damn maps!





    But back to the topics at hand:
    Quote Originally Posted by Skotos
    Anyway, I want to bring up something else to return to the topic at hand. There's something I've been wondering since CG started this thread. Does having more historical information available make things more or less complex? I know that Kilo has less evidence in the record to go on for hellenistic period Arabia, and CG, you have more to go on than I do. Now on the face of it, more research, more information to keep track of, that should increase complexity. But I actually am wondering if having more historical information to research and use might actually make things simpler. It puts up metaphorical guard rails on the highway and limits the variables. I dunno. What do you guys think?
    The answer is a very definite yes for me. It's probably the thing I'm most inefficient at. I usually try to be as efficient as possible, and at the same time I also try do to stuff properly and to the end. With "research" (lol I'm mostly using wiki) you never know whether that additional info you'll get is worth the trouble or how much time you'll have to spend on it. It's so open-ended.
    And you guys know how Wikipedia is. You try to look up one tiny detail and you'll end up reading about everything else as well. On the other hand, history is often so ridiculously random and/or weird and sometimes you really miss out on the good stuff.

    Quote Originally Posted by Skotos
    But this conflict is inevitable and can never be prevented. Bernard Cornwell does this ten times every book. That's how you learn more about your characters. You let them surprise you. You discover they have nuances, that they are more complicated than you thought.
    I disagree. Those conflicts aren't inavoidable.
    Again: It depends on what you're going for and what your approach is. Plotholes aren't a problem if your story is entirely character driven and grown, not planned.

    Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and co. have very complex stories, but few if any plot holes. Cornwell is exclusively focused on plot and those books of his that I read are not really complicated.
    And whilst yes the comparison is a bit unfair and yes I found him very underwhelming, the main reason is simply that he always chose plot over character.

    It's simply the difference between: "What would my character do?" vs "What do I want my character to do?".

    But sure: In our plot-heavy stories it's hard to avoid. So when we notice those conflicts we have 3 choices:
    1) Roll with it and change plans; 2) change the situation in such a way that the outcome becomes desirable, and if necessary go back and change stuff to make it work; or 3) stick to the plan and try to cover stuff up.

    Which choice is best depends again on what you are going for and also cost vs benefit. Obviously the 2nd one is the most tedious one to do, but also the one that keeps both your plan and your story intact. The choice between 1 & 3 is the choice between plot and character.
    I thought about that early on when I started this AAR, coincidentally also because of Cornwell. I had read some of his Last Kingdom books shortly before and was so underwhelmed by them he's actually come to represent everything I want to avoid. A plot that's more or less like a railway, character arcs that again, are more like a straight line, and some other things I had issues with.

    So I made that conscious decision that I'd do my best to incorporate the best of both characters and plot, but always choose the former over the latter if I have to.
    If I get in that situation where I have to choose one of those 3 options, I'll do what I can to avoid the third one. But yeah, I still understand that it's a valid one depending on what you are going for.

    Quote Originally Posted by Skotos
    As to that scene, even if you don't agree with the “plot hole” of leaving something a mystery, I'd say it's the lesser of two evils to leave something to the imagination of the reader than to show something that strains the reader's credulity. One advantage of leaving something open-ended is that you can set it aside and come back to it later to explain it. It's not a plot hole until someone writes “the end”.
    Just to reiterate: I'm not arguing that anything needs to be changed there. I think it's far behind now. Nor am I arguing that everything needs to be spelled out.
    If it's too cumbersome, then yes: Good reason to leave it out. But I think it's important that you as a writer have some explanation for yourself as to why that outcome happened. It's important you do. Why? To avoid contradictions. Also, you can create some opportunities to explore it later if you wish to do so.
    Let's say for instance Mub'samat get's finally the help that she needs and get's her revenge. It's kinda hard to write that revenge when you don't really know what happened. And why not, for example, have her show mercy to those few dudes who intervened and made the qayl not kill her? It's hard to build on something that you don't know.

    And again my philosophy is to ONLY plan what is necessary and ONLY to write what is necessary. Defining what's necessary is always up to the author. But I think for a key scene it's important you have an explanation for yourself. Doesn't matter how complicated, anticlimactic or improbable it is, as you don't have to tell us. Just for yourself. Because this contradiction can weaken the story even more further down the line.

    Furthermore I think the mentality to simply "let the reader make up an explanation himself". Because the consequence can very often be this:
    Quote Originally Posted by Kilo
    For instance, I have principled issues with people being indirect or withholding information without a clear and present reason for that choice, but that is a very common theme in many things. I can never wrap my head around it, because it just seems plain stupid to me, and for that reason I'd never be able to write that into a scene in a compelling way. However, that doesn't make the move any less useful or reasonable, it just shows something about me.
    I don't think that's just you.

    If a situation has been built up and you're denied the answer, you will naturally feel cheated.
    The "let the reader/viewer make some solution up by himself" approach can be annoying if it's something important.
    Especially if there isn't one or if all likely ones are being contradicted later on.

    The primary task of the author is to make the reader suspend disbelief, and for that he needs to be compelling. If something that feels hugely important is left out, it's often because the writers had no sensible explanation for it themselves. People don't like that most of the time.

    Not having seen either Galactica or TLJ, but having followed the scandal of the latter a bit, it was quite interesting to see some of the more ardent fans trying to make up all kinds of excuses or explanations as to why really weird stuff there makes sense, and the disgruntled part of the fandom ripping all of those apart and listing all the reasons why none of the stuff made sense. Thus it's quite interesting that Skotos mentioned it as a response. Because it cuts at the core of one of the problems that harmed the franchise significantly.

    So the torture scene is the defining one for the entire Mubsamat plotline. It's where Mubsamat's character is defined. It's where her antagonist is defined. It's where their conflict is defined. In my opinion you can leave this scene out without any problems, but if you yourself don't know the answer to that key moment, you also don't know those 3 either. And not having read what'll follow, I'd wager the plotline might still be ok, but not as good as it could be, because this contradiction might carry on.

    So I'd at least try to have an answer for myself. Not to share it, but to know it.
    It's like building a house. If there's a weakness in the structure, everything below it might be ok, but everything on top of it might be weakened as well unless you factor it in.
    Last edited by Cookiegod; February 23, 2019 at 08:55 AM.

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