Saturday, May 15, 2010


I was reading a book review that said flatly that the plot was "over the top," and yes, it did sound sort of extreme. But that made me wonder-- what makes one plot "over the top" and another "innovative" or "clever" or any number of good synonyms for "different"?

What's the difference? Can you give some examples?'



India Drummond said...

I think the difference for me is suspension of disbelief. An author has to build up a certain amount of trust with the reader... a process that says, "this world has rules, and I'm going to stick with them."

"This world" could be real-life earth, or a purple planet full of Zogg people, but either way, the author has to abide by her own rules. If something starts to feel like she just made it up as she went along, that's when I lose it.

Linda Maye Adams said...

I think that's more of personal taste than anything else. I like reading thrillers, and some of the stories take advantage of our fantasies about finding lost treasures. That's one of the elements I really like about the thriller.

But I've run into a couple of writers who had trouble with thriller because they were looking for elements that could actually happen. If you put an event in that they believed was not historically factual, it could not happen. So some types of thrillers were over the top for them.

For innovative and clever, I think it's a different approach to the story that's more magical. I read a lot of urban fantasy, and I'm a little tired of the stories because there's nothing particularly special about them. It's nearly always a female lead. She's smart-mouthed and has an attitude problem. She probably has a boyfriend and has lots of sex with him in the book. She's probably a private eye or a similar role. The stories are nearly always in first person. I feel like I'm getting the same story though the Big Bad changes. There's just nothing particular different or clever about them that makes me want to read an author's next book.

Molly Swoboda said...

If I have to work as hard to read a story as the author did to write it, it's most often because the plot is OTT, or the primary characters are not strong enough to carry the structure. I also discover that stories with run-away plots may imply a sequel is in the works. "Creative" and "daring" are the results of a great balancing act. ~Molly Swoboda

Denny S. Bryce said...

My manuscript in progress was called "high concept' by an editor and an agent, which I think can be a good thing or a not so good thing. So OTT to me falls in the same gray area. For a reader, if the plot is confusing or so outrageous it doesn't jell -- for reasons already mentioned in above posts -- than you get the label - OTT - and it's a negative. But if done well, it works beautifully if that complicated plot is the kind of story you enjoy.

Whatever meaning you draw from OTT - you're looking at a complex plot that either works or doesn't work. And maybe OTT means it doesn't work while 'high concept' means it does? (A girl can hope:)...

Anyway, Dan Brown comes to mind here. Although drawn from facts, history, and his feverish imagination, his plots have been called OTT by some, and clever and/or innovative by others. I think they work, but others who read his stories may feel he goes too far.

Jami Gold said...

I agree with India, a big part of whether something is over the top is the suspension of disbelief. This can refer to the world-building and the author sticking to the rules, as she mentioned, or I think it can refer to the plot itself.

Real life is messy. In real life, not every thread gets neatly tied up and solved. In some stories, I think the author wants to give their characters a happy ending so much that they feel they need to make every part of their life happy. While the author might have worked to make the main plot resolve realistically, they might not have put as much to make the subplots seem realistic.

So when I read a story where every major and minor plot is tied up neat and happy - that's over the top. :) I like a little bitter with my sweet.

And Linda, I'll let you know if/when my story is ever published. It completely doesn't follow that UF formula you mentioned. LOL!

Jami G.

Elizabeth Lynd said...

I dunno...Madonna, innovative (re-inventive); Lady GaGa, OTT?

Literature, I don't know. Half the time it seems over-the-top is what we're advised to do in writing workshops, right? Is your heroine in dire circumsances? Great--now put her in that, in a tree. On the side of a cliff. In a hailstorm. Naked.

Bernita said...

And I agree with Jami.
And my urban fantasy/paranormal suspense is about to be published and it doesn't follow Linda's formula either.

Eva Gale said...

OTT is when you can't believe Everything and the Kitchen Sink. Lack of believable motivation. Or, not even believable, but not built enough.

Riley Murphy said...

Elizabeth Lynd! I demand to know - who gave you a copy of my current WIP???? Man, oh man. I was freaking when I read: now put her in that, in a tree. On the side of a cliff. In a hailstorm. Naked.

But then, when you ended at - naked? *insert wipe of the brow here* I realized you hadn't been referring to my story. Nope - because you made no mention of the innocuous gash on my heroine's foot that dripped fat drops of blood into the gator infested waters the tree dangerously angled over - and too, you left off referencing the advancing forest fire (unaffected by the ice storm) that ate a steady path straight for her precarious perch. Geez, it was a good thing that the hero had a friend in the area with an available chopper - totally equipped to handle such a tricky dilemma.

Who knew? No one. Nope, not even the heroine had an inclining that the love of her life - who was a pastry chef by day - doubled as a daring helicopter pilot by night. *whew! Talk about lucky!*

Murphy - playing catch-up. :D

Gayle Carline said...

Everytime I think of OTT, I think of the movie Total Recall. Some Big Dog Corporation steals Arnold Schwarzenegger's brain and replaces his memories with some benign life. He has to go to Mars to get it all back. All through the movie, I kept asking myself, "Who would steal Arnold's brain? What would they use it for? A planter?"

Miss Sharp said...

The phrase Over The Top made me think of those early 20th century silent movies, the ones where the actors had to waaay over-act just to get the job done.

I suppose you could apply the same concept to certain writers! lol


Sharkey said...

Yeah, over the top reminds me of a TV "horse meat" hamming it up.

I've just bought Iain Pears' book, "Stones Fall." Up to now I am captivated by his economic style.
Money well spent, Thank you Theresa.


Edittorrent said...

Thomas, I'm glad you like it. His style appeals to me in the same way.