1. Notmyname
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    Notmyname New Member

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    Independent Story arcs - Independently written or not

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Notmyname, Aug 13, 2010.

    First, let me apologize if the question has already been asked and answered somewhere on the site.

    I was wondering what the forum's opinion was on constructing novels that contain numerous independent story arcs. Do you find it is better to write them independently and re-edit later when assembling so as to assure continuity and constance, or to juggle with the multiplicity and advance all story arcs simultaneously ?

    I'm afraid the balanced answer might be in the grey area, whereas sometimes this, sometimes that, depending on X,Y,Z, but the specifics of your experiences and thoughts will be enlightening I'm sure.

    Thanks !
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Story arcs in a novel shouild not be independent. They should all interact to support the principal storyline.

    How you develop the story components is up to you. I doubt you will find a forum consensus on the best way to do it.
     
  3. Notmyname
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    Notmyname New Member

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    Thanks for the quick response Cogito.
    I'm not sure I agree, though perhaps it is because I failed to express myself adequately.

    I find there are many books/scripts with a number of story arcs that are thematically related but narratively independent. A few pieces from the french nouveau roman come to mind (Antoine Volodine), or for exemple Eric Emmanuel Schmitt's "La Part de l'Autre", where the author tells two very independent stories with only the first few pages to link their narrative (in the first A.Hitler is rejected by Vienna's art school and it becomes a historical biography; in the second story Adolf H. is accepted by the school and becomes a world reknowned painter, thereby changing the course of history and his fictional biography).

    Another good illustration would be the film "New York, I love You", where all eleven stories are linked thematically (love in New York) but not narratively (they are completely separate stories with different characters). Now, one could argue that it didn't work very well for that specific movie, but it has for other pieces : James Frey's Bright Shiny Morning or even Philip Roth's My Life as a Man (though the narrative structure in Roth's novel is more blurry and presents arcs that are less distinct).

    At the moment, I am advancing all arcs simultaneously as I am afraid that the only alternative I perceive, ie writing them independently then interweaving their chopped up pieces, might augment the eventual re-writing and generate consistency difficulties.

    I'm not sure though. I was hoping someone here had attempted said alternative, or another one altogether I haven't imagined, and could share the lessons learned.

    Thanks again.
     
  4. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Well, yes, the answer will tend toward the gray area since each writer is different. However, I have read some of what "pro" published writers have said about it, and I have a few guesses about other ways to do it.

    Jim Butcher, as I recall, plots his arc as an actual arc on a sheet of paper. He labels each arc -- like "Kael searches for the ring set he lost" and then details each event. "Kael arrives at Errems." "Kael is attacked by Rydart's hired men." "Kael continues to Eddingsford." "Kael realizes he has lost the rings he wanted to give to the Princess as tribute." "Kael uses one of his two search spells to get a direction on it, and realizes he must have dropped it during the fight, so it may still be at the inn where he was attacked." "Kael returns to the inn, and inquires; the landlord hasn't seen it, but she thinks the maid who washes the sheets and cleans might have found it."

    Once he has Kael's arc, he writes out the other arcs. The arc for the villain pursuing Kael. The arc for the maid who has sold the ring, and who gets dragged into the conflict because one of the villains thinks she must be a wizard (or something) because she had an item of power.

    Then he puts them together. One big arc, a huge sheet of paper, maybe differently colored markers or pens to show the arcs intersecting, and then he writes down all the key events AND THE ORDER THEY GO IN. That way, when he's done with one section, he knows the next event to come, as well as the character it is mainly concerned with.

    Now, I understand George R.R. Martin does it differently -- more by-the-seat-of-his-pants. But he keeps mental track of how the characters are moving, what they're learning on the way, and how their actions affect one another.

    I believe that it is unnecessarily difficult to write each arc on its own, then write the next arc, then the next, and then try to piece them together like an ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle. Why? Because in any tightly-plotted book, the characters will influence each other. The villain does something to make the hero react; the hero gets help, and the helper does something to make the villain react. That sort of push-pull relationship is hard to write clinically, from great distance. Much easier to keep track of injuries, information, changing goals and everything else if the story arcs are written chronologically.

    As I said at the start, everyone is different. But for what its worth, I do not know of any author or even collaborating authors who just wrote each characters' arc separately, then tried to jigsaw them together at the end when every arc was finished independently.
     
  5. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    I write them in the same order I'll present them to the reader.

    As one of the examples of such techniques that most inspired me, there's a very short story by Julio Cortazar called "Todos los fuegos el fuego" (all the fires the fire).

    I just don't see the point in writing them separately. When I start writing I usually know all the stories so the only difference between writing them one after the other or at the same time is that separating and rejoining them would require a rewrite.
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends how you plan to put it together at the end and your preference, if you are going Cloud Atlas style then probably doesn't matter.

    Personally I sometimes write scenes from my standard novel, then I work out how to get to them.
     
  7. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    Hmm. I do that too, I just think I shouldn't. :)

    So many beautiful bits and pieces, waiting in a dark corner for a story to reach them...
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    :) its been my best work because its written the moment it was inspired. The very best bit of dialogue I feel I have written, I just woke up one morning and wrote it. Was about two months before I found a place to put it lol

    Have been doing just that this morning writing scenes from the novel no idea where they are going yet
     
  9. Mr What
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    It needs to link up in some way (physically, even by some tangential link - or failing that at least thematically) or else there's no reason for them to be the same novel.
     
  10. Phlogiston
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    David Mitchell manages to do this quite effectively. Reading something like Cloud Atlas the reader is faced with six independent stories ranging from the late C19th, through the C20th & C21st, into the near future and finally one set in a distant apocalyptic future.

    The story lines cannot be said to interact with each other except thematically (and it is left to the reader to do this themselves).

    @OP If you are interested in independent story arcs, I would strongly recommend Mitchell. The man is a genius.
     
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  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree - also recommend reading it both ways, from page 1 to the end. Then reading each story independently makes for two totally different experiences. I love the book.
     
  12. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whatever gets the job done.

    And it's not forbidden sketch things out using as many different methods as possible, loads of variation of story, and learn a bit from each.
     
  13. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write my story one chapter at a time so separate arcs are for the most part developed in the order read, although my arcs always tend to link at some point.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    unless you're writing separate short stories for a themed collection, i can't see what can be gained by not writing all of your 'stories' as they'll be read...

    in fact, i can see how easily that could lead to problems when 'assembling' them into a coherent/cohesive whole later on...

    that said, it does no good to ask others what they'd do, as only what works best for you matters and you're not writing by committee... or shouldn't be, anyway... ;-)
     

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