I have always viewed storytelling to be somewhat akin to weaving. The artist starts with various pieces of yarn and has an end goal of fashioning all of them into a coherent pattern without getting everything into a big jumble of knots.
Let's switch from the weaving comparison to a knitting one, mostly because I've have some experience knitting (...I'm still working on that scarf I promised Crystal for Christmas 2006...). Sure you can knit a simple scarf with a basic stitch from start to finish and it will get the job done, but that's not terribly interesting. If you add a bit of texture to it with a more complex stitch or add in some different colors, your scarf will be more unique. You can also make a hat or some matching gloves.
The more complex pattern that adds depth and texture to a knitted piece is like plot layers added to the main plot line. This catches the reader's eye and keeps them engaged.
A well executed plot layer will allow you to delve deeper into your character and discover facets of them that you would not have been able to explore other wise. People are not truly single minded. What else is going on in your protagonist's life? Perhaps he or she has to deal with something from their past. Or maybe there is a love interest that is risking the outcome of the main objective (or the main objective is risking the outcome of the love interest).
When first introduced the subplot will run parallel to the main story, but somewhere along the way it might be the primary objective for a chapter or two before coming back to the main story line. Just be careful to make sure that it doesn't overtake the main objective. But it shouldn't be thrown in willy-nilly. By the end of the book (preferably during the climax) your sub plot should be directly affecting your main objective sending the piece to a crescendo (oops..off of knitting and on to music...going back to original extended metaphor).
The other colors are like side plot lines. They are different, but add to the whole of the piece. They allow the reader to engage with other characters. Just like a different yarn color can complement or juxtapose against the primary color of the piece, so can subplots.
Each color is added for a reason, and the same should hold true for your secondary characters. You don't just take a finished piece and randomly poke some other color through out. Even if it looks random, the other colors of yarn are there for a purpose to add to the piece as a whole. You can't just throw in side plot lines to the novel. It needs to build on what is going on in the novel and augment it in some way.
Also, even though it is a different color, it has a purpose and a pattern. Your secondary characters all have back stories and needs and desires. They might not be the main character in your novel, but every real person feels like the main character in his or her own story. You might not have time or reason to tap into more of the character, especially those of bit parts, but make sure that they follow a pattern and add to the piece as a whole.
Each of these pattern and colors layer upon each other. At the end the pattern should be complete. You don't just randomly wrap up a complex knitting piece half way through a stitch set. You finish up the stitch, make sure everything looks even and that the side colors and textures are not out weighing the work as a whole. In novel writing we do have one advantage over knitting. Once the novel is complete, you can go back and fix weak side colors or incomplete complementary patterns. Look at your novel. Is it lopsided? Does it have enough depth and texture? Make sure you've knitted it together correctly because proper leveraging of subplots will add tension, depth, texture, and ensure the readers keep turning the pages of your novel, veraciously wanting to know what happens next.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
at 7:43 AM