Hello everyone. Welcome to the next part of my novel writing tips. Today we will discuss plotlines. Ah, the driving force of any story. As we already know, the plot is the storyline. That’s the easy part, right? We have an idea for the story, we come up with some events to get from point A to point Z, and we run with it! But there are a few delicate matters that you may need to look into regarding plotlines.
Earlier I wrote a long blog about plotlines, but reading it over I found myself to be rambling. Instead, I’m going to spare everyone the excruciating drivel that I wrote and just include a brief summary that contains advice that I feel is useful.
First, if you have multiple plots that intersect, make sure you write a strict timeline for each one. If they never cross paths, you have more liberty with their timelines. Learn from this mistake that I made while writing my novel. I wrote 2 plotlines that intersected, then intersected again a short while later. But I didn’t pay attention to the timelines of each plot, so I had a problem. On one plotline, 3 days had passed between the intersecting points. On the other timeline, 3 weeks had passed between those same two points. O-U-C-H!
Because I had already written the content leading up to the second intersecting point, there was no easy fix. I tried extending the time period of the overall plotlines from one month to three months, and then replotting the connecting points. I came up with a solution to the time problem, but I hated the solution even more than I hated the times being off. For several days I was unable to add content to my novel because I was wrestling with fixing this in a way that I was pleased with. Finally I did, but it was a headache that I would not have had to go through if I had planned it out beforehand. Learn from my mistake! That’s why I included it here.
Second, resolving plots is essential to a good story. If you are writing a stand-alone story that will never have a sequel, wrap everything up. There is no reason to leave an unresolved plotline. If you don’t know if you want to write a sequel, but haven’t totally ruled it out, you can always leave one minor plotline unresolved. Something where we may not be entirely sure what happens to this character, but after contributing to the main plotline, the character involved becomes irrelevant to the remainder of the story and sort of disappears into the crowd. When you decide, 10 years down the road, to write a sequel to the story, use that loose thread as a tie-in to your new story. You don’t even have to finish their plotline in book 2, just use it to lead in to the story. Perhaps a decision they make (after the first book is over but before the second book is beginning) causes a new problem that your main character has to handle.
But if you are planning a sequel to your novel, you have greater liberty with your plotlines. Absolutely make sure you wrap up the main plot. That’s the one the book is all about; the one that gives the reader the satisfaction of “finishing” the book. But you can introduce other plots in the story that continue into book 2. As long as they re-attach to a main plotline, you should be all set (even if it doesn’t reconnect with the plotline that gave it life). But still make sure you wrap up book-spanning plotlines at some point. If it does not reconnect, it shouldn’t be in the story. Also, try to avoid using 2 books to resolve one main plotline. If your first book does not resolve, and just leaves everyone hanging, your writing damn well better be good enough to hold the reader’s curiosity for the year or more that it will take for your new book to come out. Your best bet, if you want to leave the readers hanging on for the sequel, is to resolve the original plot and show a consequence that opens a new phase in the adventure.
Third, while multiple main plots tend to make for a richer story, the difficulty increases exponentially with each one. The first one is easy. If you have only one plot, you slap a few events down, write the content detailing those events, resolve, and you’re all done. But when you add a second main plot, now you have a challenge. As mentioned above, the timelines need to coincide. It’s fine if one takes a week and one takes 2 months, but be careful if you need to intersect them. And you pretty much will need to connect them at some point, or you may as well just write 2 separate stories.
But adding in a third main event means planning each timeline to fit specifically together. If two of them intersect and re-intersect, a certain time period goes by. Add a third in, and it needs to fit with not 1 but 2 timelines. What if the third crosses the first at one point, and the second at another point. Better have it in line; year-by-year, day-by-day, possibly hour-by-hour. Just realize that if you get too complicated, you may be in over your head. This may impact your writing in a negative way, increasing how interesting it is, but lowering the quality of your writing if you can’t interweave them together in an effective way.
Fourth, give each of your plotlines a separate read. Pull out the chapters that follow Main Plot A, and read just those to make sure it doesn’t include any glaring issues. Then pull out just those for Main Plot B and do the same. I suggest this because if you just read through your novel as written, you will be bouncing from one plotline to the next in the following chapter; back and forth to keep it from becoming stale. You won’t get the full continuity of your plotlines unless you look at them individually.