1. Magnatolia

    Magnatolia Active Member

    Jan 11, 2014
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    Having multiple plot arcs?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Magnatolia, Jan 28, 2015.

    Hi guys,

    I just posted a question on plot fluff versus meat. I was having a nice hot steamy bath to try and give my body a chance against this cold and I had a thought.

    When I write I try to keep my writing to my MC and I think that's why I struggle so much with thinking of what to write without getting too much into the fluff stuff. With my current idea for a novel, in my head I kill a character about 11 years into the novel. She was the girl my MC broke up with to 'make something' of his life. Because he isn't there I literally cut her out of the story until he hears about her death. Fair call in that instance. But the section I'm writing now, my MC has two friends Sally and Peter. MC dated Sally, and she's now dating his friend but it's all cool. They're good friends. I would rarely if ever, venture from my MC's storyline to delve into theirs.

    A movie I love is Safe Haven, and the romantic vibe of the movie is the style I'm aiming for in a way. I haven't read the book it's based on but I should. In that movie the MC goes to a small town to live and she' being chased by this Police Investigator so the storyline moves between him and her individual storylines. By them moving into his storyline which is intertwined with hers but still separate, it gives them a lot more to work with because he's talking to this person, investigating this evidence, etc.

    Does that mean, if I was to jump into the storyline of Sally and Peter, it would have to have some connection to my MC's story? If it didn't then it's not relevant to the novel right? Whereas if I jump back to my MC's parents storyline, this is intertwined with the MC's storyline as him leaving impacts them.

    And, can I jump into a characters storyline once or twice, or does it need to have an actual arc? For instance, if I was to jump into Sally and Peter's storyline once to show how they feel about him moving. They might be sad that he's left but happy that he's pursuing his dream. If I decided to follow their storyline I could show them being inspired to follow their dream which would be relevant to the story by showing how the MC's decision to leave affected them.

    And, if I would only jump into a characters storyline once, is it better to do this through another characters storyline that would be longer. Say I wanted to show that Sally and Peter were happy and sad, I could have them contact the MC's dad to see if he's heard from his son.

    I think I see a massive problem with why I run out of content. By limiting myself to just my MC and the people immediaetly around him I leave a lot.

  2. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

    Jan 28, 2014
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    Exactly. When you underestimate these secondary characters as "real" people you leave a lot of material unexploited, even if they don't star in separate subplots.

    But if it's the MC's story, coming up with distinct storylines for the supporting characters would be a distraction. For instance, you talk about showing how Peter and Sally feel about the MC moving. This would (IMO) be important only if it causes them to take or fail to take action that forwards or holds back the accomplishment of his goals.

    The point of view you choose to write in means a lot. Unless you're purposely doing omniscient POV, you can only show what your first or third person POV character can experience or find out. It is possible to write a novel with multiple POVs, as long as you make clear breaks between each character's scenes. But note: if you give POV to your MC, Sally, Peter, etc., the book really becomes a story about all of them.

    Keep thinking about your main characters and what motivates them, their backstories, family backgrounds, etc. You'll find you'll have so much material you'll be sweating to cut it down.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2015
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Jul 5, 2010
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    California, US
    I think it is useful to examine what your story is. It may be that the story you're telling is one that is limited to the MC and maybe one or two people around her. There are good novels that have that kind of limitation. I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with delving into the stories of the other characters, even to the extent that what they're doing doesn't directly impact the MC, but at that point you're telling a different story than the one you'd tell if you were limiting it to the MC. When you ask whether or not you can do X or Y in terms of moving to these other characters, the answer is "yes, of course you can do that." But if you do, I think you have to be aware of how it changes the overall story you're dealing with, and that it's probably going to change the novel in substantial ways that differ from what you'd have if you were only dealing with those other characters when they cross paths with the MC.
  4. Bryan Romer

    Bryan Romer Contributor Contributor

    Jan 26, 2014
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    Unless they are going to be major themes and plot lines that run through the whole book, most readers would probably be frustrated with a parallel or branching narrative that disappears and does not affect the main plot or carry a decently strong plot of its own.
  5. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

    Jan 28, 2012
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    Isn't that exactly what Anna Karennina did??? Man what a horrible book.
  6. CedricMiddorick

    CedricMiddorick New Member

    Jan 29, 2015
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    If the subplot is strong enough to stand on it's own and/or it adds some importance to the main plot, then yes, it could work.
  7. Malisky

    Malisky Mercury Retroblade Contributor

    Apr 11, 2012
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    The Middle of Nowhere The Center of Everywhere
    I think that it's a matter of taste. Some people love side stories some people hate them. And it also depends on their execution. If you are to make a side story, then make it really good, because most likely, the reader is hooked on the story of your MC and he's/her first thought, when he realizes that you are about to cut off his story to dwelve into another one will be that of a burden. He will maybe even count the pages first to see how long it will last. If it's boring to him, he will flash read them, trying to find key words in order to be sure not to miss anything that might have to do with the main plot. (I know that because I do that a lot)!

    Some things that keep me hooked on side story telling are:

    1) Make it short. Have it resolve fast. Reading is not like watching a movie.
    2) Make the characters have something special from the begining. Enygmatic, funny, whatever. Something that caught your attention as a characteristic or habbit or anything, that is not explained in the main story, because there is no reason to, afterall. Try to subliminally attract your reader into your secondary character somehow. Make it that they want to know more about him or her, but without distracting them from the main plot.
    3)Even a contradiction works well as a matter of fact. A good example I can think of is in Avatar the last airbender, but the animated series. At some point, they had an episode with just short side stories of the characters. It was my favourite episode. It told a story of the grandfather, who was a happy person overall, and showed his melancholy and regrets, a story of Momo, that is an animal and doesn't speak or think humanwise that was searching for his lost friend and how he perceived humans or interacted with other animals. Beautiful storytelling that left a heartwarming after effect.
    4) Mostly, side stories work as character action justification or resolves. They are psychological reactors. They have to make you feel a deeper understanding on something, through your characters situation. Make it sentimental. You don't have to be overly dramatic but atleast a little.

    If you find yourself dwelving deeper and deeper into the side story, keep your thought and create another book (fat one of thin one), that has it as the main story. But after you're finished with your first book! Be calm and stay focused. (That's what I'm telling myself each time).

    Hope this helped.

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