1. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Segmenting the story lines?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by CMastah, Mar 23, 2014.

    Here's the thing, my original plan for my novel was that it would start with someone who would not be the protagonist of the story (he's not truly the MC) and then shifting to the actual main character. Somewhere along the line, I ended up adding a character that's become an important addition to the story but her storyline, while running parallel to the MC, is not meant to intersect with his just yet. I then came across another idea, what if I divided the story into three parts?

    The first part, chronologically speaking, occurs with a visitor the MC's tribe, the storyline follows him and his life with the tribe quite closely, the MC is born at the start of this part and is observed by the visitor. The second and third part would happen simultaneously but never intersect (not in this novel, not yet), the second would feature the growth of the main character and the third would feature the female MC's growth, each part following their different upbringing and the different approaches to life they end up having.

    The truth is, my original intent was that after the first part, the second and third would intertwine, each chapter following the other character but then I realized I'm going to have some chronological issues that I would have no clue on how to resolve. Any suggestions?

    EDIT: I also wanted to mention that someone here helpfully pointed out that a lot of this sounds like backstory and the truth is that yes, much of this does fit as backstory but the problem is that this backstory heavily impacts much of the events of what happens later. I'd end up with characters showing up that have a history with the two MCs that would be complicated to explain. That and I'm also passionate about this backstory, so I'm sticking with it :p
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2014
  2. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    I'm still very new to the whole POV concept myself, so please don't take as a rule anything I say.
    I'll just try to give you my knowledge around it.
    There is a main difference handling a change of POV on a a First Person narrative (FPN from now on.) and doing one on a Third Person narrative (TPN from now on). (You could also make different characters thoughts to be narrated on different Persons, but I've never done it, and I couldn't advice anything on that.)
    Usually, when handling different POV's, it's most common to use the TPN. I think because it is "easier", at some extent, to "jump" into different character's skins, and doing so on FPN gets a little trickier.
    I'm going to assume that you are writing on TPN.

    First of all, the "Jump" onto different perspectives must be sort of obvious. It gets annoying for readers to get to the second page of a chapter and realize that they're no longer on the skin of one character they've already got used to.
    Second, When to do it? I find useful to do a change of perspective on the beggining of a chapter. It get's easier for the reader. You can also do it midway of a chapter, but it, again, has to be kind of obvious. Let's say two of your characters are having a conversation, talking about their lives. You have been telling the story inside one of them's mind. In this conversation, you could make the transition in a moment of silence between one conversation and the next.
    Third, try to make a consistent pattern around your transitions. What I mean by this is, don't make the first two chapters about character A, the next 8 about character B, the next one about character C, and the remaining ones about character A again.

    I made it very general because I don't quite know how are you handling your narrative and how you intend to manage those changes of perspective yourself.
    As of your story: What is the "story" of that novel? what is it about? is it about the tribe itself? about that visitor? about that main characters? Because, protagonist of a story and main character is not the same. The protagonist is the one who makes the story "moves", and the main character is the eyes from which we, the readers, experience the story "firsthand".
    I believe most of what you said sound like backstory. Maybe you can tackle that backstory as a separated story, maybe doing that first part totally separated from the second and the third? Or introducing some events of the first part that you consider relevant and necessary in another way? Maybe as dialog between characters, or something like that?

    Sorry I can't be of more help, it gets hard to picture the whole story without any reading of how you actually planned it.
    I'd really recommend you to read "As I lay dying" by William Faulkner. In that story, he managed to alternate through 15 narrators, with their own monologues and their various degrees of coherence and emotional intensity, and, somehow, make the story consistent.

    I hope you find anything of this helpful, and that I didn't end up confusing you more of what you already are :p
    Again, this is just my way of viewing it, and it's not an easy subject to handle.
    I'd probably be totally wrong about it, so please, as I said, don't take anything I say as a rule.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2014
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  3. tupbup
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    tupbup Member

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    Is the visitors story really necessary to the whole story? Could you perhaps contain it in a prologue? As to the intertwining stories this is a really interesting idea, I love when you get to see the same parts of a story from another perspective. I think the approach Martin takes in A Song of Ice and Fire works well with changing perspectives (using the characters' name whose perspective it is from as the chapter title) is simple and easy for the reader to follow.

    If you still need the visitor's story throughout the story you could use it strategically to show a significant passage of time or around the point of something integral to the story. Personally I'd limit his POV as much as possible to show that the other two perspectives are the MCs.

    I'm not sure why you would encounter chronological issues, it would be OK to show a scene and then go to back to it from the other perspective, so long as you were showing something different and not just repeating yourself.
     
  4. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    The problem is that the visitor's segment has vital pieces for which I feel flashbacks would not do them justice. The visitor himself is important but many segments during his time in the village (and the characters he befriends who won't show up again) are admittedly unnecessary.

    The chronology problem occurs because the story takes place over a couple of years (this is all after they leave their village), while character A (for example) is actively being portrayed during months 1-3, I'd need to account for the whereabouts of character B who is only actively being shown during month 1 and then possibly not for another couple of years. I'd be stuck with showing what a character was doing during the next couple of months while the other was mostly inactive for possibly a few years. One of them will mostly be stuck in the same town for the majority of the book while the other will be traveling around the continent, meaning that when I show character A studying and fitting in with modern civilization, character B will be having an easy time exploring the continent and not getting mentioned for ages because during her period, things were actually quiet and non-eventful. You'd have (using the Gregorian calender) something like showing what character A was doing during January 2006 until March, while character B doesn't become active until 2009 with character A then being active again during November and December 2006. One of them would get more face time during the initial parts of their story while the other doesn't get noticed until years later and if I intertwine them, the reader will be uncomfortably jumping back and forth through time.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no one can tell if any/all of that will work till you write it... speculating does no good, because anything can work if the writer writes well enough and nothing can work if the writer can't...

    time spent asking for and waiting for opinions that can only be wild guesses, would be much better spent writing and completing the ms...
     
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  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I especially want to echo the last segment of this. No one - and I mean NO ONE - can possibly know your story and how best to tell it the way you can. If I tell you how to write it, it ceases to be your story and becomes my story. This forum is at its best when the members are discussing what options a writer has - what techniques are available and the pluses and minuses of each. But when you have to ask, "Does this work?" or "How should I do this?" that's an indication that you haven't thought through your project sufficiently. There's never anything wrong with pausing and going back to the drawing board.
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Going along with what @mammamaia just said ...I'm curious. How much of this story have you actually written? It's hard to tell for sure from what you've told us here, but it sounds as if you haven't really written any of it yet. You probably have made notes, but have you actually written any scenes yet?

    If you get stuck in the 'planning' stage you can end up chasing your tail for yonks and not get anywhere much. However, when you start actually writing it—writing scenes as they occur to you, from the POV that seems to make the most sense for these scenes—the answers to your questions as to how to weave the story together will probably become clear to you. Faster than you might think.

    I know some people sketch out a story plan/outline and then simply write to it. And this works for them. However, many other people use a more organic approach. It sounds to me like you have your story ideas well developed already, and you 'know' the story you want to tell, so you can't lose if you just start writing.

    Who is your most important character? Write a scene, any scene, from this character's point of view. Then write another scene, either from this same character's point of view or a different character's point of view. And so on. Build your story in separate blocks, and put the blocks together as you go.

    You don't need to do this in chronological order—although you'll need to keep events straight in your head. (Setting up a timeline or diary of events helps.) But some authors actually write their last scene first, so they know where they're heading. Others start in the middle and work in both directions. Some start at the beginning, if they have a strong start in mind, and then either write straight through, or skip around.

    If you actually write and not just think about writing, you'll end up with something concrete to work from. I can just about guarantee that the story, and your ideas about it, will change as you write anyway, so too much time spent in the pre-planning stage will end up being time wasted.

    Take the bold step and get started—if you haven't already.

    If you HAVE already written a fair bit, just tell me to shut up! :)
     
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  8. sunsplash
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    sunsplash Bona fide beach bum

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    I agree you need to write it down and experiment. The first draft most likely will look nothing like the final so now is the time to play and see what works. It takes more time but it's time well invested. I sometimes have a harder time visualizing where my story is going until it's on the page - it can make more or less sense in my head - but after it's written and read through, I have a much better idea of what works and what doesn't.

    Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian has two timelines throughout the story. It alternates chapter by chapter (mostly), one being told by a present day daughter, the other by her father years before her birth. It doesn't sound exactly like what you are trying to do but might be a good resource for seeing that kind of structure and how it works. As a reader it didn't put me off or confuse me...if that makes any difference. Good luck. :)
     
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  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @sunsplash - nice to see someone else citing Kostova's work besides me. :D
     
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  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    While it's true it depends on how you write it, I can relate to this. My MC has a childhood that matters a lot and isn't merely backstory, while at the same time the story needed to start when she was captured as an older teen.

    I started by just writing the scenes (and didn't worry that I threw some out later). The more I wrote the more clear it became how to organize it. I settled on flashbacks regardless that flashbacks and prologues are discouraged. Now I'm organizing the chapters and I've been reading about how to write parallel narratives . That may be an option for you.

    I wanted the flashbacks to line up with the current story but they didn't fit smoothly. My choice was line them up (ie there's a connecting thread) and put the flashbacks in out of chronological order, or keep them in chronological order and intertwine two parallel narratives. I'm going with the latter.

    The two narratives will come together midway through the book and the rest of the book will be only the present time narrative.
     
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  11. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    True enough, I haven't written anything yet. I've been using the snowflake method to write everything down but got to one of the characters (there was a section of the snowflake method that said to write a paragraph about that character's storyline) and I wound up beginning to write every detail of what happens with or around that character and the layout is now taking forever. I have the general idea of what happens during the scenes but I thought I ought to write down the layout of each scene so I can get a concrete picture rather than a rough idea (hence, the layout is taking ages and I'm still stuck on writing the details behind just one character :p).
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I just thought of something else. Don't be afraid to spend time just thinking and imagining, rather than writing. The more of any scene you're able to visualise clearly, the easier it will be to write it. Rather than writing details, maybe see what you can do to just imagine them. Try to see them in your mind's eye. How your characters look, how they talk, walk, etc. Put them together with other characters in any scene you think might be part of your story. Imagine the setting too.

    I find this works best for me when I'm either a) just waking up, and my brain is refreshed and not filled with day-to-day concerns, or b) when I'm out taking my morning walk, which I try to do every day. I'm retired now, but I used to walk to and from work while I still had a job, and it was during those walks when most of my ideas took shape. I always had a notebook with me, and scribbled down bits of dialogue, or plot breakthroughs, or whatever came into my head about a scene or character. And wow, these came clear in my mind at these times.

    I also sometimes play CDs of the kind of music I might imagine as a soundtrack, if my story was a movie. This can also kick-start the brain into imagining mode.

    I don't know if any of these tricks would work for you, to get you out of the planning stage and into the writing phase, but it's worth a try. And it's fun, too! Mind you, you end up talking to yourself a lot, and people will stop and stare when you're standing against a hedge, scribbling into a tiny notebook ...but us artists must suffer for our work. :)
     
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  13. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    The thing is I do imagine most of the story most of the time (and try to find solutions to blanks), it's just that I'm writing this stuff down cause I'm worried I'm going to forget it and the layout phase is only me jotting down all the events I already know are going to happen (I've got most, if not all, the scenes visualized, I just now need to get them written down and recorded before my mind plays battleship with my memory of them :p).

    Once I began putting my story to the layout, I realized there were several large holes that needed to be filled, which is why I haven't gotten around to even writing the first chapter (upon re-thinking the first segment along with notes people made about flashbacks, I realized that the end of the first segment was really enough to start the story, giving me perhaps all the important stuff I needed without that huge backstory. Some of the backstory can still be brought up as either flashbacks or even dreams).

    I don't want to just jump into writing the novel because while I have a general idea of what happens in each scene, I really don't have the specifics down for it all and am only just finishing up the parts that would help me clearly understand motives behind each character along with a breakdown of what ACTUALLY happens. When I got to work on the plan for several scenes, I realized that there were things that either the character wouldn't do or that I was lacking in an explanation for.
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Sounds to me like you have enough to start writing, @CMastah. Does the 'Snowflake Method' suggest you have every detail and minutia before beginning to write?
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Some people write the way you do, planning everything till there are no holes, etc. But plenty of people don't. I'm one of those who doesn't. The reason? Because as you start writing, your characters may well 'take over.' Things you planned for them just don't fit the way they're emerging. You'll think of other directions they can go, and the magic is ...it will make perfect sense! Furthermore those plot holes will fill up. You'll have a 'eureka moment,' and because the plot has been cooking away in the back of your brain, suddenly the solution will appear.

    You really can't lose by writing scenes as they occur to you. (They don't need to be in chronological order. Just start writing one of those events you said you 'know is going to happen.') Don't worry about forgetting stuff. You can still keep notes at any time, including AS you write, as well as before you write.

    If some scenes end up not fitting, you can discard them. But no amount of planning is going to bring your story to life the way actually writing it does. Don't fear making 'mistakes.' The biggest mistake you can make is not getting started. Give yourself some scope to let your story breathe. If you try to stick rigidly to your 'outline,' you may discover that your writing is flat and uninspired. It's those moments of inspiration, where the character suddenly starts doing things you didn't plan at all, that writing becomes exciting. For you, and ultimately for your readers.
     
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  16. HallowMan
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    HallowMan Banned

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    I’ve always wondered if writing is an art. I know it is a craft, but is it also an art?

    One reason why I wonder is because art is considered something that we create. That would mean creating characters, their world and their conflicts, would be an art, right?


    But when we think of the word, “artist”, many think of a painter, dancer or musician. I get the impression writers are further down the list of potential artists.
    [links removed]
     
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  17. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    According to the Oxford dictionary, Art is: The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
    "The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination" I think writing pretty much covers that :)
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    writing is one of the 'arts'... it is included in any university's 'fine arts' program and degrees such as an MFA [master of fine arts] include writing...

    so, it is actually considered more an art than a craft... though some of its subcategories [such as screenwriting and lyrics writing] are considered more craft than art... which may just reflect an arbitrary hierarchical distinction imposed by those who practice what they feel should be seen as more 'important' forms of creative endeavor...
     
  19. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    @jannert and @GingerCoffee , thanks guys, I was putting off the writing of my novel and honestly, when I had to ask myself why, it came from a little place of fear that I might screw up. You guys are absolutely right, I sat down and began writing the short prologue and I'm happy to have done so, I actually feel like I'm accomplishing something and at the very least I know I can get down the first few chapters without a hitch since I already know exactly what's going to happen.
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well good luck. And remember: After Fear comes Fun! May you have all sorts of fun with your writing.
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that there's still a huge backstory problem, and I think that there are two solutions:

    1) Eliminate the visitor and just make him a past fact.
    2) Treat the visitor as your third main character.

    Since you don't want to do 1), I'd suggest embracing 2). Because no matter what you do, your readers are going to see the visitor as the MC. He's their viewpoint character at the beginning, and therefore he is the main character, from their point of view. He will have to be just as complex, nuanced, and important as the character that you really want as the main character. And his death (he dies, right?) will have to be important and plot-satisfying, or your readers will just shut the book at that point and walk away.

    That means that your current MC has to be "vouched for" by the visitor. That is, the reader will care what happens to him because the reader cares about the visitor and the visitor cares about the MC. To you, the MC outranks the visitor; to the reader, the visitor will outrank the MC for quite some time.

    Edited to add: You could of course try to downplay the importance of the visitor, but if the reader has to go through a lot of pages that essentially communicate "don't get too engaged with this guy; the important one is coming in Chapter 4!" they're likely to, again, just shut the book.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2014
  22. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    This thread is somewhat old (over a year old, so 'somewhat' might be an understatement) but I wanted to mention that I've finished the first draft of my novel. I've gotten to work on the second draft and have gotten positive reviews from two out of the three folks who are beta reading it. If I hadn't gotten the push here to just go ahead and start, I have no idea whether or not I would've started or even gotten half the progress I have now.

    Thanks guys.

    @ChickenFreak , I've decided to minimize the visitor's role at the start to a prologue and a flashback (the prologue translates information that can be and IS mentioned later, so it might end up getting cut because it's not wholly (sp?) necessary, and the flashback I could probably be inserted in a later section (as it stands, the (male) MC starts out being scared because everyone he knows is getting killed, the flashback on the other hand shows him in a moment of selflessness and bravery so might have more impact when shown later)). When I thought about it, the visitor's section alone has no plot to it and really only does give information that can be imparted through flashbacks.
     

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