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Remember the end of the Godfather, where they spliced all the different assassinations with the christening? Or any film with good cutting, where they swap between different characters and what they're doing? That can work great with books, too. But I want some advice on how to do it properly.

I have several characters going through the same event, but from different places and perspectives. The question is the best way of writing the experience and presenting it.


Should I write out each character's story in full, one at a time? I could then look at the six completed stories and decide how to intermix them and work out the pacing. Of course this has the issue that if I write the stories to stand on their own, it might be hard to fit them into the pacing of the overall structure. I can rework stuff, but it may end up a lot of work, and some things may not click.

The alternative is to plan it out more basically. Draw out a basic outline of each character's story, try to work out how the cuts will mix and when it swaps where, then after working out a plan you try to implement it and change it as necessary.

The final method is just to go full discovery writer, swap by instinct when you think you need a lull in the action by swapping to the character who is trying to hotwire a car, to build tension as the reader wonders what is happening to the one who has been kidnapped.


I would like advice on what you think may be the best way to splice multiple stories/perspectives together.

As a bonus question, any advice on changing heads/perspectives in third person limited (but not limited to one protagonist) is also welcome.

Thank you.

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A movie can establish a scene very quickly based on visuals. Once a scene has been established visually, you can cut back and forth between scenes very quickly because the viewer instantly recognizes the key visual elements.

A novel builds up a scene one word at a time. When you change scenes you have to build up the next scene one word at a time. Once a scene has been established verbally, you can switch back and forth by recalling elements of the scene, but one word at a time. This is inherently a much slower process. I don't think it is possible to make such quick cuts work in a novel.

  • Indeed, the cuts cannot be as rapid as in film. And as you say, it is good to have some elements that stick in the reader's mind, so that you can swap more clearly between scenes. This makes things a bit more ponderous, like the process of steering a ship as opposed to steering a racing buggy. – J. Doe Oct 24 '16 at 22:11
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    Good point. If you insist on doing quick cuts and short snippets of scenes in a Stephen King-like fashion (I've seen chapters that were just a few sentences long), either read Stephen King to learn how he does it, or use the "lead character"'s name as chapter title. This allows your reader to identify your scenes very quickly. Audrey Niffenegger does this in The Time Traveller's Wife, because she has two first-person narrators. Blandly declaring which character narrates the current chapter gets rid of the need to tediously establish who's the narrator. – Filip Oct 25 '16 at 5:03
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    [cont.] In general, other "scene IDs" could work as well. For example, you could head the scene/snippet by the setting (e.g. Mary-le-bone vs Charing Cross) or any other ID that fits. Character name or setting and date (as in a letter) are the common IDs I can think of. The disadvantage of IDs is that they would need to be used consistently throughout the entire book. Some people might not like that. – Filip Oct 25 '16 at 5:09
  • @Filip Excellent suggestions, Filip. I'd say it would be worth copying them into an Answer so others can see more easily. I like the idea of IDs, as it will allow me to swap as quickly as the reader can juggle the stories. That is to say, not as quickly as film still and not very quickly, but you can still have sudden scene changes or go back and forth between two characters. I'll have to go through a Stephen King novel and pay attention to his technique, as well. Thanks! – J. Doe Oct 26 '16 at 13:17

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