What makes a plot too complicated?

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ibukichan
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What makes a plot too complicated?

#1 Post by ibukichan » Fri Jan 09, 2015 4:38 pm

So, I was planning out the plot for one of my projects, and when I took a step back and looked at what I'd gotten done, I realized that the story gets very complicated, and quickly. There's a lot of mystery elements, and so many different choices you can make to solve some or all of them. I've got about 20 different endings planned, depending on which you chose to solve. It branches quite a lot, more than I had expected. My question is, when is it too much? When does the complexity become annoying, or distracting, or just bad?
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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#2 Post by ColaCat » Fri Jan 09, 2015 4:47 pm

That not only sounds like a lot of work for you, but also a lot of work for the player. I think complex plots are often the most simple. Kind of paradoxical, I guess, but it's true. Look at all great books, mysteries, or films. The plots can be so simple, yet seems so mind-numbingly complex when you don't know the answer. Take, for example, Doctor Who. The episodes that have many different elements (mostly the ones written by Steven Moffat) could be called complex, yet they come across as confusing.
I think the skill is making something simple seem complex. It should be that once the person has completed all the endings/solved all the mysteries/watched the entire show they get it, and they're not still having to wrack their brains to try and second guess what something meant. Take Steven Moffat (again, I know, I'm sorry). I would say that lots of his stuff is annoying, merely because it's *trying* to be clever, and complex and deep. There's clever, then there's too clever for your own good. If someone doesn't understand your game upon finishing the endings, or you're trying to hard to make it complex, then it comes across in a negative light.
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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#3 Post by papillon » Fri Jan 09, 2015 4:52 pm

When does the complexity become annoying, or distracting, or just bad?
If the user looks back over the game they've just played through and goes "The ending I just got sucked, and I have no idea how to go about making things better" then it might be too complicated.

Breaking your game up into sections and signposting where the big turning points are so that players who finish can more clearly think "maybe if I tried to do X instead, things would turn out differently" will make it more manageable.

Of course, I have a higher tolerance for complexity than some people do. :) I mapped out every event in Kara no Shoujo. Pretty much everyone else uses a walkthrough.

For an example of a story that's too complicated for me: during my gamebook research after I started Sword Daughter, I dug up a book that branches after more or less every three paragraphs. And it branches based on all sorts of criteria. Branch based on actual choices, branch based on stats you've carried over from earlier, branch based on what you said your favorite color was back at the start of the book, completely blind branch based on choosing random numbers, branch based on what time of day it is that you're reading the book... and most of the time, you have no idea whether the scenelet you got next was the better outcome or the worse one. So you get to the end after going through dozens of branches and you have pretty much no idea how you got there, or how to change things for the better. Might as well be rolling a randomly-generated story each time you play through it.

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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#4 Post by firecat » Fri Jan 09, 2015 9:07 pm

what makes the plot too complicated is how rush it has been thrown at the player. if you add a murder into the game you want him to be has mysteries as possible with small details on chapter's until the final pages that reveal everything. just throwing in random stuff and thinking people will understand is not the way to go at things in fact thats a horrible way to make a story.
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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#5 Post by Morhighan » Fri Jan 09, 2015 10:37 pm

Time travel. :wink:

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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#6 Post by truefaiterman » Fri Jan 09, 2015 11:00 pm

papillon wrote: Of course, I have a higher tolerance for complexity than some people do. :) I mapped out every event in Kara no Shoujo. Pretty much everyone else uses a walkthrough.
Can I build you a temple? Or a statue? Figuring out that game by yourself deserves it (It's still one of my favourite visual novels, though).
My question is, when is it too much?
I'd say you should give the story to someone else. Can that person remember every important point after reading it? If that's not the case, and that person wonders why something happened, that's a problem.
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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#7 Post by Katy133 » Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:12 am

Stories with complicated plots (with lots of characters and lore) can work and be quite popular. Look at Fullmetal Alchemist and The Matrix. I think what makes a story too complicated is when one of the following happens:

a) The focus/POV of the story switches between too many different characters/conflicts, causing the overall focus to be spread too thin, or,
b) The main characters (or characters that are focused on a lot) are uninteresting, and therefore the audience gets bored with the plot.
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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#8 Post by OokamiKasumi » Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:24 am

ibukichan wrote:My question is, when is it too much? When does the complexity become annoying, or distracting, or just bad?
There's nothing wrong with making something Complicated -- unless you don't have the Resources and Skills to back it up. When you try to make something beyond the limits of your Skills and Resources you end up with something half-assed and sloppy. The technical term for that is, "Biting off more than you can chew."

-- Think:
Do you actually have enough characters and backgrounds to fully illustrate your 'complicated' story?
Do you actually have the skill to code all the effects you need in the game?
Do you actually have enough music and sound effects resources to cover the entire game?
Do you have enough money to pay for what you lack?

If not, then what Do you have?
-- Seriously, look at what resources you actually have and use them to decide what you can actually accomplish. Save the complicated projects for when you Do have all the resources it takes to make them properly.
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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#9 Post by Mad Harlequin » Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:47 am

Some of the best stories I have ever read are also some of the most complex. Some of them are simple. A story's construction depends on many things---two of the most important being the intended audience and the narrative's needs. And as Kasumi has said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a multi-layered plot, etc. if the writer can handle it.
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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#10 Post by Tempus » Sat Jan 10, 2015 10:18 am

Complexity becomes frustrating when it's unassailable. There's a book I bought several years ago on the philosophy of history and it ended up being too difficult for me to read at the time. Every page there was a word I didn't understand and many of the concepts the author referred to I was unfamiliar with. Now when I read it I find it interesting and easy enough to tackle.

If someone cannot build a mental model of what's going on in a book/movie/game/whatever then they will quickly become bored. The things being presented to them just become noise. Now, that mental model of what's going on doesn't need to be complete (even by the end of the work), but if the person cannot find a way to make sense of anything they'll abandon the work.

Complexity isn't good or bad. The level of complexity, however, will act as a filter for certain types of audience members. A complex work will filter out people not yet equipped to deal with it (or just not interested in it), and a very candid and simple work may disinterest those looking for more intricate things. It's also possible to layer a story so that there's a surface level understanding which is easy to follow and a deeper level which has more complex things going on but not necessarily right in the audience's face, meaning the audience isn't constant assaulted with information that's worded explicitly.

I've been pretty abstract until now so I'll give an example. Let's say you have three characters, Joanna, Tom, and Peter. The main plot concerns them saving the world, but there's a subplot of a love triangle. Joanna and Tom are going out, but Peter also likes Joanna and they eventually have an affair. As an author you want to include this subplot but the main plot is already quite complex. A way to include it without diverting a load of time to the details would be to place something distinctive of Joanna's in her bedroom's BG, such as a hair brush. Then later have it appear in the BG of Peter's bedroom. Another example would be to have a particular piece of music play when Joanna lies about something and is exposed, and then have that same music play again when she lies about Peter (but this time she isn't exposed.) In both cases this massively cuts down on explicit complexity while delivering the same information to observant audience members, yet it isn't necessary to pick up on to understand the central plot.

I think complexity is fine if it's necessary, but complexity for it's own sake is wasteful.
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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#11 Post by Fujihime » Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:54 pm

Plan out what you want to achieve in the end in quantitative format.
For example, I want my game to have 5 characters with 10 endings each.
So that I can set a finish line for yourself.
If my time line to finish the project is in a month's time. Am I able to complete all the tasks set for these 5 characters with 10 endings each?

Also, if I can answer the questions that I set, it wouldn't be complicated anymore.
For example, Character A is a socially awkward person. Why is he so? Does he has a background story that you can tell? Once I could answer all these 'questions' that I build along the way, it should be good enough.

But I can't emphasize enough on setting a quantitative goal :)
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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#12 Post by Taleweaver » Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:26 am

This is more about the writing than anything.

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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#13 Post by czxcjx » Fri Jan 16, 2015 1:58 pm

There's only one rule, and that is to make every moment within the story interesting separate from its complexity. As long as the writing is great, the characters are developed, and the events within themselves don't need a lot of the context that comes before to be powerful, you'll be writing a good and complex story. Most of the huge tomes of Literature out there aren't classics solely because they're big, but because they are big and well written as well. War and Peace happens to be about a very very complex realistic historically accurate war plot chock full of detail, but its also about the small lives of the people that exist within that framework.
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Re: What makes a plot too complicated?

#14 Post by Akai85 » Sat Jan 17, 2015 11:59 am

Everything should make sense in hindsight and nothing should feel tacked on. For example (I'm sorry, this is a bad example) there was this decently enough written fanfic I was reading which was a character x character. Thus I know they're gonna end up together. Then there's this drama where the woman get's pregnant has a miscarriage and is depressed because the man is jealous. Yes, that's as stupid as it sounds. Up to that point I wasn't enthused but I was reading it, you know? Then that happened and no. No baby killing for the sake of pointless drama, thank you very much! When the readers know the character's will get together (so there's no mystery there) why do you need to add pointless drama to prolong them getting together and at the same time leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth? Question yourself: If I remove this element does the story lose something? If the baby drama was removed does the story change?

It doesn't. The characters still end up together.

My point being the complexity should feel like a natural part of the story, enriching it and enlivening the experience for the audience. Not a cheap length/complexity grab. I'm sorry I used such a bad example but in the end what I mean is that the events and complexity should refelect the complexity and depth of the characters and world itself. It should be justified. Two fairly bland people who are already married do not need baby complications to realise their feelings for each other. So don't rely on the baby drama/complexity.

Some of my own stuff is complex-ish but it feels like a natural progression of the ideas and themes in the work itself so I don't mind. It does mean extra work though! You have to be honest with yourself as well and know when to remove things. Aside from overwrought plotting, having too many characters and stuff can be confusing when the reader is at a constant back and forth, not knowing what's going on. Best way to find out if it's too complex is tell someone about it. My own sister had this overwrought 12 interelated book series idea with the titles in not chronological order and loads of stuff about death being truth and genius hackerzzz who are teenagers and sociopathic flame girls and mentally connected mental disorder girls and good looking disillusioned business men and girls who left the circus and some bald female general. It took me a long time to convince her it was needlessly overcomplicated and hard to make sense of. Even my own first delusion idea was a trilogy! Kids sure are ambitious these days lol :lol:

(Danganronpa - both games are complex and I like them. The world ends with you is complex. The first half of death note. [The second went a little overboard.] Hope those examples help show what I mean a little since I had to give you such a stupid example of overwrought plotting.)
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