Sunday, March 20, 2011

Plot Threads


I could get really technical and describe the interaction of the characters in your plot to be like the threads of execution that occur in a computer operating system, but I'm afraid that unless you are a software engineer, that doesn't really help.

I consider the adventures of each character to be a single stream, or thread of the story. Most of the literary descriptions call them subplots. The character starts at one place, travels through the story, and ends at another location. I guess they could come back to the same place, but the character would have to go through some kind of change, or what's the point?

Every scene in which the character appears is another length of the thread for that character, and for the story to flow, the different pieces of thread had better connect. If they don't, the story can break down.

It's a tricky business to make sure not only does the thread connect along the way, but doesn't seem to come from a different direction other than the one already traveled. There had better be a logical flow or the story won't work.

If the story is only about one character, that process may not be that hard, though I'm not sure I would find the story all that interesting. Most of the truly interesting stories are those with heavy interactions between different characters.

OK, so if the story has multiple threads converging and diverging, how do you manage those interactions so that at the end of the day every thread maintains a logical flow?

It's not easy.

What works for me is to write each thread of the story separately. Keeping in mind what I think is going to happen in other threads of the story I write the current thread.

Of course along the way, I discover that a character doesn't want to behave as I expected, and things have to change. Usually I make a note of the change that needs to happen in the other thread and keep going, though sometimes it is a big enough change that I feel I have to go revisit the other thread right away to keep things consistent.

FYI, this is also the reason that I have found tools like Scrivener to be so useful for managing individual plot threads.

When I have all the threads done, I integrate them together. Unfortunately I don't think you can write each plot thread separately, then simply squish them together and call it good. That's what rewriting is for.

What I do is write the different threads, then start the process of weaving them together. I connect in the dangling pieces, reign in the threads from the wrong direction, until, at the end of the day, I have something that resembles a rope.

Even then I usually have a few revisions to go through, but at least for me, it's easier than writing separate pieces of multiple threads.

How about you? Do you write complete threads? or do you write each piece at a time?

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