1. tearingTHEstrands
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    tearingTHEstrands New Member

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    Parallel plot lines?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by tearingTHEstrands, Jul 10, 2010.

    So, I ask you, what would you do if you have a story that takes place over 2,500 years and has three main characters, one of the characters living 2,500 years ago, the other one being born in 1851, and the other one living in modern times?

    Now, the two latter characters are still alive in the present, and I won't waste your time with the fantasy details that that involves, but I want to ask, should I split my novel into three parts, each one dedicated to one of the characters, or should I reveal the character's personal history, but stick to the present day?

    Thanks a bunch.

    I just realized that there is a whole other forum for this sort of thing, but oh well, I guess I'll just have to cope with the intense drama of having my thread moved.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    The closest parallel I can think of to this is "A Canticle For Leibowitz". If memory serves, Miller spreads his story over something like 1,500 years by breaking the work into three sections, each section several hundred years later than the previous one and depicting a markedly different stage of societal development than the others.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I have a novel in the works that has to deal with exactlly that problem. One of my characters is virtually immortal, so his story begins millennia ago, but the other main character in the early part of the book is yet to be born (from our perspective). So I alternate - a chapter or two focusing on his life through the ages, a chapter or two on her life, until their lives converge.

    This approach allows me to suspend each of their stories at difficult points in their lives, so the reader is left wondering how that will resolve, and looking forward to the return to that character.
     
  4. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    What you put into the main story should be the things necessity to tell that story. No more.

    If you got a lot of interesting side and back stories that isn't necessary to be known in detail to tell the main story you can always make individual short stories of them.
     
  5. tearingTHEstrands
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    tearingTHEstrands New Member

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    Thanks everybody for the advice! w176, you are right on the point of necessity, because I know that I want my characters and settings to be detailed, yet not overburdened, and Cogito, I do like the idea of alternating between my three main characters, you know, to create relief from one character and build on the other one's plot line, yet knowing from my own experience reading novels that alternate between characters, I often grow bored of one of the parallels and find myself wishing that that chapter or section would end so I could begin reading about the characters that matter to me. Well, I've decided, I guess, that I'll reveal a little bit through paralell plot lines, but most of it through backstory, to retain an element of mystery, eh?

    Thanks a lot. :)
     
  6. Nalix
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    Nalix Member

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    Parallel plot lines feel to me to be much more powerful than simply alternating ones. Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow worked beautifully for me, but they were to separate books telling basically the same story from two different perspectives. As long as the contrast is interesting rather than distracting it works great. I recall a book by David Brin, I forget its name, but it was the first book of a trilogy - I think - that had several alternating plot lines (at least three or maybe four) and I found that very distracting even though I usually like most of his work.

    Another way I think alternating plot lines can work is if you have one thread that is definitely the main thread and the others are obviously auxiliary to it. Have the bulk of your story written in the main thread and then have the others clustered together in their own chapters or tacked on to the end of each chapter, maybe alternating each other. Mostly, I think that for alternating plots to really work they have to 1) relate to each other and form what the reader can see as a single cohesive story, 2) contribute a perspective that would otherwise be absent and 3) not interfere or distract from the main story. Like any writing strategy, there are trade-offs, but as long as you use its strengths and avoid its weakness it should be great.
     
  7. Invincible
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    The method depends on the story, to the very detail. If the characters are only connected by incident, then telling the story chronologically would be good unless if one of the characters is not major enough to have his own side of the book. If they are related to each other directly, backstories would be a better way, lots and lots of backstories. Origin stories of cool characters are sometimes the best part of stories, and you'll do best to build intrigue with flashbacks.

    You can mix and match. Have the story start with character II and tell his story. Include incident related backstory of character I. Once character II's part is over, change the setting to current, and tell character III's story. Include incident related backstory of character I here as well.

    So in conclusion, you'll have to tell the story depending on the magnitude of an incident, the importance and best handling of the characters etc.

    Just run the story through your head and how it's best told. You could move in partial chronology, telling the bulk of the story in chronology but leaving a few important bits in the other time periods so as to form a link between them. You don't want the story coming off disconnected, or do you?
     

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