Guest Post by Floyd Hyatt – Complexity in the Novel

This one was so long and so … well … complex, I’ve split it into two. A week from today is launch day for FORCE OF HABIT, so I prolly won’t post part 2 for a couple of weeks. It’ll be worth waiting for.

Considerations in the Novel

Nothing I like more than reading a good story with a cunning, interwoven plot (or Plots).

Also, though, there is nothing more tedious to read than an over complex story that spends half its word count just to describe the set of complex rules it uses to tell it. There is a difference between the two.

World-building vs Rube-Goldberg

For Fantasy and Science Fiction, we deal not only with events that play out on the stage of our imagination, but, often enough, play out on an imaginary stage, as well. Before we can write about our characters and situations, we must become set builders and scrim artists. We need to define the imaginary or envisioned world in which the events take place.

How important is this?

It can be anything from just a good idea to seminal in terms of the story itself.  Setting a stage that can underpin, enhance, or even support the intrigue, drama and expectation of the plot can be crucial to a story.  At the least, it shows the reader the backdrop of the play.  The more consistently thought through that stage is, the more it aids the suspension of disbelief and the sense of reality the reader (not to mention the author) can hang on to.  It lays forth the rules which the story overlays and plays out within. It is structure.

To make a board game, a board is needed.  It provides the boundaries and allowed moves that can be made, and must be adhered to and understood by all players.  Chess without a chess board is just a bunch of little statues, not a game.  Likewise, complete fictions, such as Fantasy and Sci Fi often are, need to define the rules under which they play out, the stage upon which the actors strut.

It is in the rules part of this process where our friend (or foe) Rubin Goldberg raises his head.  The more rules your build has, the more tedious the story can become.  For most, having to spend half their reading time pouring over a rule book, is not fun, but work.  One of the most successful games in the world, Chess, (to keep to our original example,) only has maybe six basic moves, three special rules, and one mandated set up.  Yet it can support endless reams of complex and varied game play, strategies, and possibilities, to the extent that almost no two games need ever be identical.  Yet it is fair, allowing either player an equal chance at victory, depending on their skill, foresight, and, perhaps, a little luck.

Writers can use this fact to good advantage when considering the rules they put into place during their world build.  It is tempting to set your stage with as many complex physical laws, social customs and odd waterfalls of circumstance as can be dreamed up.  Remember that each complexity adds amounts to steepening the learning curve of the reader, and perhaps diluting the focus of your writing.  Ask yourself just how much back-story your work really requires to play out, and trust in yourself that, like the chess player, you can build a complete and nuanced tale within it.

F. A. Hyatt

WRITING PROMPT: Write down the rules of your world, whether an other-world or a family dynamic. The ones from the real one are probably more complex, but the reader is unconsciously familiar with most of them. (Women bear children, men grow thick hair on their faces. Shut up–I just plucked my chin the other day.)



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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