Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

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ladymarella
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Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by ladymarella » November 6th, 2011, 7:29 pm

I have been following these forums for a while, and have even posted a couple of times, but now that my final high school exams are finally over, I decided that it was time I started to get more involved here.
I am in the middle of writing my first novel, an historical drama set in the early years of the 19th century. it currently sits at about 65,000 words, but as I do not write in order, i don't know how close I am to the end, but I suspect there is anywhere from 20-40,000 words left before I finish the first draft.

My general question is this: does anyone have any advice on how to write a novel with multiple plot lines. It seems to be coming along alright at the moment, but i know editing is going to be interesting. There is one general plot line, involving the rivalry between tow families, which both opens and closes the book, and forms it's back bone in a sense. The other plot lines, they are definitely not subplots, but rather are other major plot lines, of which I can think of about 3 or 4 that run through the entire book, with a number of smaller ones that all tie in with each other.
So, I do believe it's working, but does anyone have any ideas on how to make it really work, and though I'm not at the query process yet, how would this go in a query?
Currently composing a sprawling family saga set in 19th century England
The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters.'- William Shenstone,

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Sanderling
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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by Sanderling » November 6th, 2011, 10:42 pm

First, have you read many novels that have intertwining plots? This is especially common in epic fantasy, I think (eg. George RR Martin's A Game of Thrones, or Ken Scholes' Lamentation) but also seen in other genres (I haven't read it, but I think Jonathan Franzen's Freedom is structured this way; I know Carl Hiassen's books typically are). Seeing how other authors set their novels up will help you get an idea of what would work best for yours.

I write single-character POVs so I've never tried a novel of such complexity, but I absolutely can't imagine doing one without some sort of physical storyboard in my writing space where I could visualize the entire novel. I'd probably do this with post-its on a blank wall so they were easy to move around, but a whiteboard would work, or something where you can lay all the plot details out. You can also see how certain plot elements connect up to other threads more easily.

I also can't say about the query, but I would guess the approach would be to select the one central plot and focus on it for the query. Even if there are others of similar importance, they should be only briefly mentioned or not at all. This good post by Maybe Genius makes some comments about that: http://maybegenius.blogspot.com/2011/11 ... k-lot.html

Congratulations on making it this far with your novel, and good luck with the rest of it!
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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by dios4vida » November 7th, 2011, 1:02 pm

I'm writing a book with some intertwining plots right now. (Well, they're actually two sides of the same coin that draw together halfway through, but that's neither here nor there.) Here's what I've done.

-For my notes, outlines, or any other background material, I've given each of the plots its own color. I know that if something's written in green ink, it relates to these two characters and their plot. Blue ink, these other characters. That way I easily keep track of who's doing what and in outlines it gives me a quick visual to make sure I'm giving equal attention to each plotline.

-I focus more on making each plotline cohesive and whole before I worry too much about interweaving it with any others. If an individual plotline isn't finished and neat, then it doesn't really matter how well they're woven together. Each has to be as intricate and complete as if it were its own book.

-I go through what I have and see what similarities these characters and plots have in common - love, lust, hatred, having to choose between what you want and what you should do, justice, any of those overreaching themes that tend to pop up in our writing. Once I've identified them, or a good place to put it in, I try to get these two plots to kind of shadow each other - both have to deal with this issue, but the characters do it differently (in character, of course) so that they feel like they belong together. Or you could contrast them, too. The point of this is to avoid the question of "these are good, but why are you telling me both of these stories together?" If the plots AND themes weave together, they'll compliment each other and complete each other to a much better effect.

I hope this helps!
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

ladymarella
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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by ladymarella » November 8th, 2011, 3:38 am

Thanks for the suggestions! Really gives me something to think about. Sanderling, i feel stupid now, but I'd never really thought too much about trying to find similar books, but this now gives me even more excuse to reread the Poldark series which was a large inspiration when i was first getting my ideas in shape.
I think I really will have to do something visual at one point, but i'm wondering if that should be done once I've got the first draft finished? i have a rough running outline on my computer in various colours, but it is definitely something that needs to be expanded on.
i actually do find it easier to twist the plots together as they go, as they support each other so much. For example the latest 'thread' as I call them is a mini plot of it's own that only runs for several scenes, but manages to pull in a number of the larger plots, and is a catalyst for a more major thread later on.
But, I love your idea of finding the common themes, I'd never really thought about that before, and you've given me a lot to mull over
Currently composing a sprawling family saga set in 19th century England
The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters.'- William Shenstone,

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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by CharleeVale » November 8th, 2011, 3:50 am

ladymarella wrote:Thanks for the suggestions! Really gives me something to think about. Sanderling, i feel stupid now, but I'd never really thought too much about trying to find similar books, but this now gives me even more excuse to reread the Poldark series which was a large inspiration when i was first getting my ideas in shape.
I think I really will have to do something visual at one point, but i'm wondering if that should be done once I've got the first draft finished? i have a rough running outline on my computer in various colours, but it is definitely something that needs to be expanded on.
i actually do find it easier to twist the plots together as they go, as they support each other so much. For example the latest 'thread' as I call them is a mini plot of it's own that only runs for several scenes, but manages to pull in a number of the larger plots, and is a catalyst for a more major thread later on.
But, I love your idea of finding the common themes, I'd never really thought about that before, and you've given me a lot to mull over

My first (and sadly, failed) MS was one like this. Don't wait until the draft is done! Work as you go on your visual aides. After you finished a novel of length and complexity, you don't want to go through the work of creating aides for it. You probably won't end up using it if you don't use it now.

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ladymarella
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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by ladymarella » November 8th, 2011, 4:17 am

Thanks Charlee, I now know what the top thing on tomorrow's to do list is!!!! I thin I just needed that encouragement :D
Currently composing a sprawling family saga set in 19th century England
The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters.'- William Shenstone,

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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by dios4vida » November 8th, 2011, 10:35 am

I agree with Charlee. Doing it now will save you a lot of time, effort, and frustration later.

You can do it, ladymarella! :)
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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polymath
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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by polymath » November 9th, 2011, 10:40 am

A writing principle for consideration, consider the target audience's capacity to follow multiple threads, which is a guide for how much they might diverge, how often reminders are indicated.

One must, so to speak, for multiple threads is they must converge by the four-fifths mark when the final crisis turn arises. They may begin at any dramatic turn before the halfway mark. Not too artful to begin a new thread after the halfway mark due to potential coincidence fallacies.

Ideally, every thread ought best be introduced during the exposition act. Note: the exposition act is the opening act. And exposition in that sense means exhibition, introduction, outset, setup, not, per se, backstory or explanation or summarization of details.

Threads may begin together, diverge soon thereafter, all at once or sequentially, and eventually reconverge. Also, convergence may occur all at once or sequentially.
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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by Nicole R » November 10th, 2011, 10:31 pm

Lots of great advice here! I'd echo what others said about reading novels with lots of plotlines and trying to get a bit more organized up front. However, I also think this first MS is an opportunity to find your style and comfort zone. Some people are intense outliners, others are complete pantsers (make it up as you go). I don't know that you'll fully know where you land on that spectrum until you complete the first novel.

Also, it's good to start getting organized, but keep your expectations in check for this first draft. It's not going to be perfect, and you'll likely have some heavy editing no matter what. And that's okay!! I wrote my first novel in much the same way - I knew the basic high points of the plot, but it took me a while to figure out how to weave all the details together. I didn't even include my bad guy POV until the second draft (which, I really wouldn't recommend by the way ;) ) Take some steps to plan now, but also have faith that it'll all come together eventually. You just might have to massage it a bit more.

Good luck!

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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by ladymarella » November 12th, 2011, 10:34 pm

I've started with the scene cards, and whilst I'm not far through, and haven't laid them all out yet, I feel it's going to be really helpful, and I've already noticed several major plot holes that I need to see to.
On the subject of books to read- does anyone have any suggestions of lit fiction/historical fiction with multiple plot lines?
Thanks!
Currently composing a sprawling family saga set in 19th century England
The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters.'- William Shenstone,

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polymath
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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by polymath » November 13th, 2011, 12:20 am

Gabriel García Márquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude is literary fiction, historical fiction, a signal work of the Magical Realism movement, part of the Latin American literary renaisance, a nonlinear storyline, and has multiple plot lines.
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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by Nicole R » November 14th, 2011, 2:04 pm

For reading suggestions, I'd bet that most historical fiction has multiple plot lines simply because you're trying to tie the character's story in with the major events of the time. So, I'm sure you can find lots of good examples. My favorite historical fic. of all time is The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye

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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by bcomet » November 17th, 2011, 2:23 pm

Sanderling wrote:First, have you read many novels that have intertwining plots? This is especially common in epic fantasy, I think (eg. George RR Martin's A Game of Thrones,'
I really liked that intertwining (and connecting!) in the first and third book. (The second book however just seemed like a connector book to me.)
But he went so far and long between picking up characters' stories in the fourth book that I became frustrated and put it down mid-way through. For me, once I get attached to a character's story, I don't want to lose him/her completely.

So there is much to be admired in Martin's works and also, possibly, cautions. I say this because Martin was already strongly established before these novels and a new writer might not be given that much leeway.

Also, a story that asks a reader to keep starting anew –especially once they are deep into the read– with too many newly introduced characters (or arcs) over and over again might just lose the reader altogether.

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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by dios4vida » November 17th, 2011, 5:49 pm

bcomet wrote:Also, a story that asks a reader to keep starting anew –especially once they are deep into the read– with too many newly introduced characters (or arcs) over and over again might just lose the reader altogether.
I remember the first time I read The Lord of the Rings. I got all involved in Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli, then I'd get to a new chapter and it'd be Sam and Frodo and Gollum. Several times I went "oh yeah, I'd forgotten about them!" even though the Ring is the crux of the entire plot. While it didn't lose me, it did take me a while to get accustomed to those character shifts. If I didn't like all of them so well, it very well could have lost me. As it was, I was always bummed when we left Aragorn because his plot thread was (is) my favorite.
Brenda :)

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Sanderling
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Re: Novels With Multiple Plot Lines

Post by Sanderling » November 19th, 2011, 12:41 am

dios4vida wrote:
bcomet wrote:Also, a story that asks a reader to keep starting anew –especially once they are deep into the read– with too many newly introduced characters (or arcs) over and over again might just lose the reader altogether.
I remember the first time I read The Lord of the Rings. I got all involved in Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli, then I'd get to a new chapter and it'd be Sam and Frodo and Gollum. Several times I went "oh yeah, I'd forgotten about them!" even though the Ring is the crux of the entire plot. While it didn't lose me, it did take me a while to get accustomed to those character shifts. If I didn't like all of them so well, it very well could have lost me. As it was, I was always bummed when we left Aragorn because his plot thread was (is) my favorite.
I think this is the greatest challenge with multiple-POV books - making sure your readers like all your characters enough to want to read all the plot threads. When you're reading a single-POV novel you quickly get drawn into caring about the character (or you don't, and you put the book back on the shelf), but it takes more time to get the reader invested when you're switching back and forth between points of view. I've read the occasional multiple-POV book where one character and/or thread didn't appeal to me at all and every time I'd reach them I'd sigh and put the book down. Then later come back and force myself to read through that chapter so I could get back to the characters I did want to know about.
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