Stories that would benefit from fewer plot threads/twists (spoilers likely)

Having an errand today which involves two very long bus rides, I went through my books for something long and interesting to occupy myself. I found an old favorite: Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline. I’ve always thought this was the best of Conroy’s novels, but as I started into it again it occurred to me that one of the plot threads could have been discarded.

The narrator, Will McLean, is a student at a Charleston military college in the mid-sixties. During his senior year, he and his three best friends–Tradd, Mark, and Pig-- become involved in an attempt to protect the schools first black student; simultaneously, Will falls in love with Annie Kate, a young woman from a upper-society, formerly rich family in hiding because she is pregant. Though Will never introduces Annie Kate to his friends, the threads are still intertwined because

Tradd is the father of Annie Kate’s baby and has abandoned her; Tradd’s mother arranged the meeting between Will and Annie so that she would have a friend during this time. But because Annie Kate breaks things off with Will, and because Tradd betrays his friends to the racists trying to keep the black cadet out of the school, this ultimately destroys Will and Tradd’s friendship.

It occurs to me that this twist is unnecessary. It’s so convenient and obviously contrived that it’s distracting, and

the dissolution of Will & Tradd’s friendship would have happened anyway, because Tradd is so involved in Pig’s death.

Had I been Conroy’s editor, I might have advised him to

Either discard the Annie Kate subplot entirely or, better, just break the link between Annie Kate & Tradd, and merely have Tradd’s mother advise Will that the romance is doomed.

Which brings me to the point of my post: What other stories–books, films, TV shows, plays, whatever–might benefit from one fewer plot thread or twist?

Red Dragon, the book, didn’t really need that He’s-not-really-dead twist. It’s a cheap cliche anymore. The movie Manhunter dispensed with it altogether.

Thunderball starts out with pilot Jack Petachi getting killed and replaced by a lookalike double, something not in the book (or in the remake, Never Say Never Again). It does give 007 a rason to get suspicious, but he got suspicious in NSNA without it. It’s a needless complication.

The whole Star Wars clone wars was made unnecessarily confusing for the casual non-fanboy movie-goer.
The whole charm of the original Star Wars as a Saturday serial mindless fun adventure was completely lost and left people scratching their heads wondering “now who are the bad guys supposed to be again?”

Lost. But in my version of the show, it took them two episodes to work out all the secrets, and everyone was happy…except the network executives.

I can’t think of any examples off hand but it seems to me that a character will be made a recovering alcoholic/drug addict for really no reason other than for the writer to give the character a flaw and set him lower on the hero-scale so his/her triumphant seems all that much greater.

I read Stephen King’s unabridged version of The Stand, and felt it was very easy to see why the editors chopped out so much. The whole episode with The Kid was especially unnecessary.

A writer whose books I normally like is Michael Connelly, but I found his thriller The Poet really disappointing in the end, largely because he refused to quit when he already had a decent conclusion and insisted upon tacking on another (and even more outlandish) Hitchcockian twist.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. Great opening, compelling story until the middle … and then plot twists, secrets revealed, and mysterious characters just muddy the whole enterprise. But if you ever get a chance, read that first chapter.

I have no example to offer, but interestingly, I completely forgot that Tradd was the baby’s father, although I remember that book pretty well otherwise.


And then, a few years later, he tacked on a sequel, The Narrows, which dragged characters from other Connelly novels into the plot.

Season 4 of 24. From what I can remember:

First the plan was to kidnap the Secretary of Defense and his daughter. No, wait! That was just a cover up so they could use some device that connects to every nuke plant via the internet and set them to have a meltdown. Oh, but they knew how good CTU was, so they had a backup plan. The backup plan was hijack an F-117 and shoot down Air Force One. Oh, they wanted to kill the Prez…no, they just wanted to steal the “nuclear football” to get the locations and lauch codes for a nuclear missle so they could lauch it at the US. And all the while, the head honcho bad guy finds a way to escape from Jack Bauer by mere seconds.

Holy c**p no one mentioned Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series yet?

Carole Nelson Douglas’s “Midnight Louie” mystery series.

OK, first a disclaimer, my ideal length for a series of novels is probably about 12. The Midnight Louie series is intended to be 27 books long. The last 10 have not yet been printed, the rest I have read over the last few months. This may have created part of my complaint.

Some of the books are reasonably self-contained, involving a murder somehow connected with an event that Temple Barr(lead character) is providing public relations for, and both the murder and the event are mostly complete at the end of the novel. ( A few ongoing strands are ok). Others seem to exist mostly as a device to develop all the little relationships and increase the number of questions which need to be answered by book 27.

Mostly, I have this feeling that there will be a wedding in the last reel, but Douglas hasn’t decided yet whether Temple should marry Max (magician with mysterious past, including involvment with the IRA) or Matt (Ex-priest, with surprisingly mysterious past). Or, if she has decided, she doesn’t want to announce it until book 27, so if Temple’s relationship with either man takes a step forward in one book, it needs to take a step back in the next book.

Also, as an ongoing plot thread, Temple has a cat, Midnight Louie who writes these Damien Runyon-esque private eye monologues. That part is ok, although it would probably be better in smaller doses (see why normal people don’t read quite so many books in sequence as Eureka does). Still, I don’t like it when the cat, and 2 or 3 of the main characters know stuff–so I as a reader knows stuff–but one or more character who should know the stuff doesn’t. It can be exhausting–rather than neat and in-joke-ish --to figure out the significance of the romance novel on the shelf in Matt’s apartment–mentioned when Max is checking for bugs.

I think I’d like the series better if either Matt or Max was an uncomplicated suitor, without so many secrets. Or maybe they could be left alone, but Lieutenant Molina’s ex could be left out. (For that matter, leave out quite so much of Molina’s life. I like her, but all the plot threads get muddy)

But the Clone Wars were mentioned in the original, so you had to include them.

“Heist” the heist (duh) movie with Gene Hackman. It’s like they were trying to out do “The Score” (DeNiro/Norton), so they just kept adding twists for no reason. After a while I was thinking - “Just end already!”

“No Way Out” (Costner and (ironically enough) Hackman again). I thought this movie was a gripping, edge of the seat thriller and didn’t need the twist at the end. That twist ruined the entire movie for me.

Yeah, but I don’t think Lucas had in mind what they really entailed until he sat down and thought up and wrote up episodes I-III.
I’m all for a good story but even George made the claim when bashed for including Jar-Jar in his films that his intention was for the films to be for “kids”.

You’d be hard pressed to find a kid under 12 that could explain the plot of Attack of the Clones.

In my case, it’s my handy-dandy amnesai ray.

The end of the movie AI was superfluous.