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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Interleave or Leave Out

   
Author Topic: Interleave or Leave Out
Owasm
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I responded to EVOC's thread on Out of Order and it brought to mind a problem that I have.

My latest project is a four volume story. There are four plotlines that end up combining in a big military campaign. Each of the first three volumes will be standalone stories with their own protagonist(s). The last story has the antagonist fighting the three protagonists.

From a stylistic standpoint, I'd like to interleave the antagonist's overall character arc in the first three stories as a unifying thread. However, his story does not interact with any of the other three until last book. My plan is to have a complete sub-arc of the character in each of the first three books so there is some resolution for the antagonist's storyline, but he isn't fully developed until the end of book three. Then all four of my fully-developed characters will interact in the last book. Is that going to contribute to the story or will it be too confusing for the readers?

If I don't, the first three books won't really relate to each other as they are different stories but linked by my universal McGuffin and the protagonist's storyline will be the first half or so of the last book.

I'm in the planning stage and would like some opinions before I start. Any comments?

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Robert Nowall
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For some reason, it reminds me of "The Norman Conquests." Three one-set plays, and while something was going on back on one set, something else happened on the other sets at the same time.
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extrinsic
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Several writing principles are in play here. One, perhaps the most important one, which character are readers meant to most closely identify with, associate with, care about, and be curious about? Whoever, that character needs to be in the foreground throughout or at least influential to the action throughout. Voldemort, Hannibal Lecter, Anikin Skywalker, Sauron, and so on, influence characters throughout their respective sagas.

How? Timely, judisciously, artfully interleave developing the character's influence upon the main dramatic complication, but develop his or her or its own dramatic complication simultaneously.

That's to me the biggy, stay in touch with dramatic complications: a proportional want or problem wanting satisfaction.

MacGuffin as I understand the term coined by Alfred Hitchcock is a premise extrinsic to a plot. The birds in The Birds, while a necessary premise, are not in and of themselves intrinsic to the plot. Substitute crickets or snakes or bunnies or alien warriors or predators or Stay Puft Marshmallow Men for the birds and the plot and theme are essentially unchanged, thus extrinsic.

Speculative fiction as I know the term is also a matter of the intrinsic principle. Omit fantastical premises and the plot and storyline stand nonetheless. Thus why I use the term fantastical fiction for naming fiction expressing fantastical premises.

Distinct science fiction, fantasy, or horror, as the case may be, have fantastical premises without which their stories and plots would not stand. Their fantastical premises are intrinsic, inextricable, indivisible, albeit distinguishable. Isaac Asimov's Foundation saga's psychohistory is one example of a saga's fantastical premise without which the story would not stand.

Largely, fantastical fiction doesn't rigidly follow the intrinsic principle. Fantastical premises might not be intrinsic to a plot. They might symbolize abstract concepts through staged degrees of separation from concrete concepts. The further the abstractions are separated from their concrete representations, the more likely their meanings will be consciously inaccessible at the time of reading, thus contravening the first principle of writing: facilitate reading and comprehension ease.

However, artful misdirection asks for a degree of concrete-abstract separation apropos of audience sensibilities so that readers' imaginations and intellects are engaged.

Put together, these principles, and others, demand that all central characters be introduced early and be kept in readers' foreminds through judicious, timely, and artful reminders.

[ January 18, 2013, 04:35 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Reziac
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Owasm --- All the excellent technical stuff aside, that's exactly the kind of unifying thread that I greatly enjoy discovering in a series.
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Grumpy old guy
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The first question I would have is: who is the antagonist in the first three stories and do they bear any relationship to your 'principle' antagonist?

As you describe it, I don't think it would be confusing if done well. Therein lies the rub. I *can* envision such a story with two story arcs within the one book, the hard bit is to keep them separate and avoiding cross contamination.

Good luck with that.

Phil.

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Owasm
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In the first three books, there is no contamination, as far as a personal one. I do have to foreshadow the agressiveness of the antagonist's country, but no personal interaction until the last book. Each story will have separate antagonists as they are all from different countries with somewhat different cultures. The protagonists will unite in the last book against the antagonist's empire and there will be a lot of bobbing and weaving intended at that point.

The idea will be to create a multifaceted antagonist so by the time their stories begin to weave, you might not know who to root for. At least that's the idea right now.

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Grumpy old guy
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The best antagonists are ones that are likeable for some reason. I just watched the movie Swordfish and the character of Gabriel is a case in point. Ruthless, highly intelligent -- but annoyingly likeable. To me at least.

Phil.

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EVOC
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
The best antagonists are ones that are likeable for some reason. I just watched the movie Swordfish and the character of Gabriel is a case in point. Ruthless, highly intelligent -- but annoyingly likeable. To me at least.

Phil.

Or, as I have read in many books on Character, your audience must love to hate the antagonist.
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AndrewR
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It sounds like a great idea, Owasm, if you can pull it off.

What I envision from your description are three independent stories, with a fourth story bringing the other three together. Each of the first ones has a different, single protagonist which the reader identifies with.

If the stories and protagonists in the first three are strong enough to stand on their own, that stage should work well, with the readers identifying with each of the different protagonists. (And, yes, I think the identical antagonist will hold the three together.) That is also the trick--you will need three different characters that all the readers in the series will want to identify with. You could easily loose readers if they disliked one, or if they are too much the same.

The big trick is the final book, though. You will have multiple viewpoints, after the readers get used to having only a single viewpoint character in the other books. I think that would be quite a jolt, perhaps enough to make some readers drop story.

You will probably need a lot of finesse to pull it off. But if you do, I think it would be a great series. [Big Grin]

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Owasm
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Thanks for the comments. As I've been outlining the series, I've decided to write the antagonist's story as a separate book and then slice and dice and insert it into the first book and see how it reads. If it doesn't work then my series becomes a Quintet.
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