Monday, October 18, 2010

Keeping it Simple

frozen Recently, I heard a couple of different people talk about simplicity in writing.

The first time, I heard two authors at an event I was attending, talk about another author’s books. The books are very successful. “But—they’re so simple!” said one author. “The plots aren’t complex at all—the stories are just so basic!”

The other author agreed. They’d both worked hard on complicated plotlines with twists and turns and surprises and were amazed that a very simple plot was working so well for readers.

Then, last week, a local movie reviewer came on a radio show to talk about good horror movies to rent for Halloween. His pick wasn’t some of the bigger budget horror films, but a movie called “Frozen,” which had had a limited theatrical release when it had come out earlier this year, but has apparently started to gain a following.

The movie’s plot, said the critic, is very simple. It involves snowboarders who get stuck on a ski lift—and, no one knows they’re up there or will know because the resort closes during the week.

And there’s a snowstorm, frostbite, extreme cold, scary heights—and wolves.

Very simple. But effective…maybe because it’s believable?

My plots aren’t really that simple—there are plenty of red herrings alongside clues, suspects tell lies (and tell the truth and it’s hard to tell which is which), and there are multiple possibilities for the mystery’s solution.

But at the same time, I try not to make it too complicated—after all, this is supposed to be fun.

I think my question is this: why does simplicity work with some plots and are there times when it doesn’t work as well as others? How complex or simple are your own plots?