This week’s video talks about the storytelling principle of “double mumbo jumbo,” why you should avoid it in your story, and how to simplify your story.
Complexity in fiction is a beautiful thing. But so is simplicity, particularly since not all complexity is good complexity. There’s a principle in storytelling, which the late great Blake Snyder referred to in his must-read book Save the Cat! as “double mumbo jumbo.” The idea of double mumbo jumbo is that one unusual or unexpected story element may be awesome on its own right, but two unusual and unrelated elements are probably going to be poison.
What this all comes down to, of course, is suspension of disbelief. Readers may be willing to believe your story world features reverse gravity, but, if you ask them to then further believe, that all dogs in this story world can repeat phrases like parrots, well, then you’re running the risk of overloading the complexity of your story, for no good reason.
For example, a YA book I read a while back featured angels and demons as its main characters. So far, so good. But when, halfway through the book, the author threw in vampires and werewolves, the story snowballed—in my opinion—into bad complexity. The author had a good thing going, but in her desire to include as many “cool” elements as possible, she overloaded her story and, ironically, made it less cool—particularly since the extraneous elements she added lacked any kind of originality.
The lesson to be learned here is that every unusual element in your story needs to be scrutinized. What does it bring to the story besides the cool factor? Is it original—or just something you’re personally geeking out over? Does it enhance the cohesion of your worldbuilding—or just fragment it? Complexity is good, but, always remember, it has to bring depth, as well as breadth.