If At All Possible, Simplify The Story

This week proved a piece of writing advice I’d heard previously from multiple sources and one I’d not considered for a while. It came up as I was continuing to work on my next project. Basically, it boils down to the advice in the title of this post.

Now, it’s going to be interesting how I tell this story. I’m trying to avoid spoiling the book I’m working on, or revealing too much about it. This will be a stimulating challenge.

Basically, my main character is planning on working in the same profession that his father is. He decides to stay in that profession at first, but then decided to take a different path in life. In my first idea of the plot, I had him joining another organization in the same profession (OK, the “same profession” is college football.

Last week, however, I had a brainstorm idea. Why am I puttering around with having him join another team when he can join his dad’s team? Even though the MC and his father don’t always see eye to eye, he knows his dad is the best there is at coaching football. If he really wants success, why wouldn’t he just work with his dad, no matter what conflicts there are?

Immediately, this plot change did more than just one thing. In the game of chess, for example, a move that accomplishes more than one thing simultaneously is always going to be a good move, and it often times is the best move. So does this plot change. For example:

  1. It immediately cuts down on the complexity of the novel. Instead of having my MC play for a coach who would be another character, I have him work directly for his dad. This cuts down the number of characters and settings that I would have had to add otherwise. With this reduction in complexity, I can now keep the plot simple and devote more time to the key characters and their conflicts.
    For example, I originally intended this novel to cover the span of five years. By reducing this time to a single year, I was able to increase my focus on exploring my MC and his motivations as he prepares for adult life. In addition, I immediately had material for a longer series if I am so inclined (I am).
  2. It raises the stakes of the story by increasing the friction between the MC and his father. The MC doesn’t approve of how his father has behaved, especially toward his mother, but he’s willing to work with him because he believes he’s a good coach and that he will help get him to where he thinks he wants to go – an NFL contract. The father doesn’t approve of the MC’s personality or his views on life, but he thinks he can bring the MC around to his way of thinking. Also, he knows his son is a good player, and he always needs good players.
  3. It raises the stakes of the MC’s decision to eventually leave the sport. Instead of quitting on/betraying his father in an abstract sense (and his brother, one of his teammates on dad’s team), it is a direct betrayal that in their minds threatens team goals. When the MC makes his choice and breaks with his father and brother, it’s going to have a far greater impact.

So kids, whenever you get around to writing your story, make sure to simplify, simplify, and simplify when it comes to the story and its characters.

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