Novel Progress (Or Telling Three Stories at Once)

The good news about bad writing ruts is that it’s possible to climb out and feel the joy in it again. The bad news is that sometimes it leaves stories in a bad place. My steampunk/fantasy/sci-fi? work in progress is suffering the effects of that.

After recovering, I realized that most of the characters are devoid of distinguishable personalities. I’m not sure how that happened. You would think that a lifetime of writing would make it easy to identify, but I guess that rut was clouding my vision. It is a bit of a first draft since the real first draft is a mess of ideas from a NaNoWriMo years ago, but I wasn’t speeding through it. I was taking my time, trying to feel where the story should go. Evidently, those senses were all off.

So in some ways, I’ve decided to back up to the beginning. Some of it is usable, especially towards the very beginning. (I still feel pretty proud of the first few lines that set the stage for the world and the protagonist.) Most of it deserves reworking.

One of the things that makes this story different than other things that I’ve written is that it’s actually three characters’ stories combined into one. I suppose reading Brandon Sanderson is starting to rub off on me. Or perhaps it’s just because this is what the story needs. The stories tie together, but without peeking in on other characters, there’s no way of knowing the whole story. And I’m hoping that one of the stories plays out as perfectly as I’m imagining. If it does, it’ll make for an exciting plot twist.

At first, I tried to just write all of the stories at once, allowing them to intermingle as I saw fit. Haven’t heard about a character in a while? Time to peek in and see what madness is happening in the laboratory. Or in space. Or with the protagonist in her desolate world. Then I realized that wasn’t going to work. It’s hard to keep three stories straight, especially before they begin to intermingle. So it was time for a new approach. I’m writing one story at a time with plans to mix them together later.

I think it’ll make things easier for a few different reasons:

  1. I can focus on one story at a time instead of remembering everything at once.
  2. I can keep the characters more distinct because I’m only in one head at a time. (Even with third person, this can be a bit of a challenge.)
  3. I can test how things play out before writing everything, which will hopefully help me find the plot holes before they sink the whole ship.

I’ve started with the least connected story. It’s not going to be as long as the protagonist’s (I don’t think), but everything hinges on it being told well. It’s the one holding the plot twist. And hopefully it’ll inspire some new ideas for the other two when it’s their turns.

Have you written stories that have multiple storylines running together? Or do you avoid it like the plague?


5 responses to “Novel Progress (Or Telling Three Stories at Once)

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    My second novel, U-town, covers multiple storylines and characters. It doesn’t have a “protagonist,” though it does fall, roughly, into three sections (as you can see from the layout of the table of contents:, and each section, roughly, centers on one character. Kind of.

    Plus, the first chapter in the third part (Carly) is a hypertext novella that introduces some new characters, most of whom don’t appear again.

    The center of the book, the (very long) chapters “The Funeral” and “The Burning” bring almost all the characters together (there are over fifty named characters in the book) for a funeral and then the POV pops around to follow this one and then that one.

    At my age, I’m definitely not going to attempt anything on that scale again. :-)

  • homedreamer07

    Kudos for writing 3 storylines at once! As a first-time novelist, I have a single storyline so far, and think it takes serious skill to write more than one for a novel. Your plan sounds smart. If/when I ever attempt multiple storylines, I’ll probably be borrowing your technique.

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