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Author Topic: When you write a novel with sub plots........
Member # 8522

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When you write a novel with sub plots- like one or even several characters breaking away from the storyline and going somewhere else, kind of like Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli in the Lord of the Rings- would you write all of the chapters about one character and then switch to another and write about them, or would you just write the book how it will be shown to the public- switching from character to character. Does this vary between writers or is there one way that you are supposed to do it?
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Member # 8490

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It's entirely up to the writer.

Tolkien went for very long stretches - in _The Two Towers_, for example, the first half of the book is without Frodo and Sam, and the second half is devoted entirely to them.

That's an extreme. More common is switching after a chapter or maybe too. Some even switch within a chapter.

It's a balance between the choppiness of quick shifts (which make the reader feel they don't have a chance to get involved in either story) and being away from one story line so long that readers forget that it's even there.

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Member # 7277

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Have you looked at OSC's writing lesson on this subject already?


I don't think there's one "right way" to do this - whatever works best for you as the author. I like writing my stuff in the order that the reader will see it. But if I'm completely on a roll with one character, then I won't stop and try to force a chapter from another character's POV because - for me - it ends up being a disaster for both storylines.

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Member # 7710

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I write them at the same time.
My WIP has a dual plotline--past and present-- and I find the storylines interplay and resonate more naturally when I write them in concert. The parts where I have written the separate plotlines and then interwoven the scenes seem much more forced and artificial.

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Jeff Baerveldt
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In the novel I'm writing now, I'm writing from several different viewpoints, and I have to admit that it's quite difficult. Each time I change, I have to get back into the head space of my POV character.

For me, its essential to write the novel in order because though I have multiple POV's, the story is more or less linear, and what happens in Chapter 2 when writing from one POV character will have bearing in Chapter 4 when writing from another POV

Now, if I were to write something like the LOTR, when the group divides and the two story lines are more or less disconnected, I would write each story line separately then figure out how to splice them together after the fact.

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Member # 7760

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My issue with this is trying to keep the subplot the subplot. One of my minor character keep taking over the story. What would Tolkein do if Aragorn kept being more interesting than Sam and Frodo?

Subplots are fun, but bad when they are too interesting. They are sub, on purpose. But we'll see... If my character keeps this up, then maybe the story will be about a forgotten king, and not two short people who have a jewelery fetish.


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Crystal Stevens
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I had a supporting character in a trilogy I was writing that I kept developing his character and just knew he could stand alone in his own story, which I did. This character's story went down on paper easier than my original story and is one of my favorites. It also has tons of potential for sequels.

So, I'd say follow your muse when a minor or supporting character tries to take over your original story. It might be a better story in the long run .

I just want to add that I usually try to stay away from sub plots, but in the story I mentioned above, this character's friend is taken hostage by the antagonist and involves a chase through the wilderness. I was going to stay away from the antagonist but thought I better add something to let the reader know what was happening to the hostage. I added a couple of chapters to cover this, and it worked out quite well.

I've always been one to try and keep my stories simple. There's been several published books I've read that have left me totally confused on what was going on because of all the sub plots, but if they're necessary for the continuation of the story, go for it.

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Member # 2651

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I'm planning a novel that will interweave at least two main stories, one in the past and one in the present , with several other individual past chapters woven in. I suspect I will find it simpler to write at least a pretty detailed outline of both independently before deciding exactly how to weave them together so that the dramatic reveals and reflections all end up in the right places.
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Member # 8547

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Aragorn WAS more interesting than Sam and Frodo ^^. I've read through Tolkien's books several times, and through some of the readings I ended up skipping through the last half of Two Towers, or through most of Frodo and Sam's part of Return of the King, starting again when they all got together again. Not because they were bad, but because the action kind of dragged.

As for subplots, it depends on the story you want to tell. George R. R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" is pretty much only subplots, from one point of view. You'd be hard pressed to call any one POV character's story line the "main" one, although all move the story forward flawlessly.

On the other hand Robert Jordan started out with a very strong main plot and had few if any side plots, but as his books continued the side stories grew until they overwhelmed the main story. So while we get a lot of drama and characterization in the later books, you don't get much closer to Tarmon Gaidon.

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