Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Too Many Twists

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers

Some authors make it hard on themselves...and it shows.

I recently finished reading a book, which I won't name, written by a well-known and highly praised author who, in my opinion, did this very thing. The writing was good and the main plot compelling (for which I awarded 4 stars); however, there were three separate plot lines which were each so convoluted I struggled to focus on any one of them. Apparently, I wasn't alone - I checked out the reviews and saw this complaint noted a number of times.

The book was a complex read and over 500 pages long. The main plot by itself - an insurance scam -  would have been enough, and the book would have been a good mystery, a lot shorter, and a far easier read. The main plot, as it happens, turned out to be the least interesting of the three mysteries the author combined into this one book. The second plot line was more interesting and I found myself slightly irritated when the story dropped that thread for a while and dragged my attention back to the first plot, which continued to rack up the twists and turns, giving the reader perhaps too much to digest.

Interspersed between the first and second plots were the private interjections from one of the main characters. These were the most moving portions of the book...and the most jarring. The author jumped about so much, I felt lost half the time...and anyone who knows me knows I have a horrible sense of direction. Many times during this book, I struggled to find my way back. The author used the term "pinball" for one of her characters and I felt like that while I was reading.

After I finished the book, I checked out more of this author's work to see if I wanted to try another. Based on the reviews of the other books, the general consensus was no. The "pinball" theme seems to run through the reviews.

To me as a reader, this is an example of a talented writer and a great storyteller trying too hard. All three mysteries were complex (another reason I gave the book 4 stars). Three separate books could have been made out of this and each one would have been great on its own. All three together, not so great an experience for the reader. The overall rating for this book is 3.2 stars with almost an equal amount of 1* and 5* reviews.

I'm all for the complexity and I like to be challenged, but too many twists or too many complex plot lines can spoil the enjoyment.


Readers: what books have you read with too many plot lines? Would they have been better if they'd been written as separate books?


  1. It sounds as if this author has an unfortunate pattern of having multiple, complex plot lines. Since she's well known and highly praised, I have to believe there are some people who appreciate her style. It also sounds as if she works far harder than necessary to achieve a great story.

    My goal for my next book is to have parallel plots that connect at the end. L.J. Sellers is fantastic at this and I'll try and keep her methods in mind as I work.

    1. Thanks, Peg! I like to write complex stories, but I never use more than two plot lines, and I typically have overlapping characters that help maintain continuity between the two.

      Happy writing on your next book!

      Thanks for a thoughtful post, Jenny.

  2. I enjoyed The Missings, Peg, you did a great job with that. I've read a few of LJ's books, too, with good parallel plot lines (Secrets To Die For was excellent). Both your books had sufficient twists and turns and complexity, but not too many plot lines to where a reader gets the "pinball" effect.

    For the book in my post, I liked this author's writing very much - I just felt the story was too layered, and jammed what might have been 3 great books into one hard-to-follow story.

  3. Judging by your comments, I think I would have had the same reaction to this book as you did, Jenny. At 500 pages, it was too long to start with. Most popular fiction these days falls in the 70-90K range. This book seems to fall into the "dog's breakfast" category of my blog post here a few weeks ago on plot and structure gaffes to avoid. We read fiction for entertainment -- it shouldn't seem like work, and we shouldn't have to take notes to keep track of myriad characters and plots, and a convoluted structure!

  4. Epic Fantasy (i.e., Game of Thrones) thrives on multiple plots. (Lord of the Rings actually has more plots than appear at first count, but they're layered in such tight parallel hierarchies one doesn't often notice.) The large 19th century novels also have two, sometimes three or four, interweaving major plots. (Middlemarch, for instance.) Film (movies and TV) have taken out not only the sprawl of description - we workers in prose must be more sparing now - but also the meanderings of plot and character. The problem seems not to be the complexity of the plots (which, Jenny, you said you enjoyed) but the lack of interconnectivity between them. The pinball effect. (What a great term!) Perhaps the writer went beyond the craft level. Anyway, fascinating post.

    One thing I like about this group is the posts invariably get me thinking beyond the immediate topic. You guys are great.

  5. Thanks for your comments, David. Always good to hear from you. Yes, in this book, the complexity of each mystery was great. Woven together, they were too much for one novel. The connections, while apparent, were not neatly threaded together and a few issues were left unresolved. Perhaps a sequel is planned.....


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