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The story I'm writing has multiple story threads, which relate to each other subtly at first, while gradually converging over the course of the story.

The trouble is that one particular thread of the story appears (from the reader's perspective) to have nothing at all to do with the rest. It is relevant, and I believe its relevance will be clear in retrospect, but how do I make this clear to the reader while they're reading it?

The thread concerns two characters and their relationship, the nature and conclusion of which turns out to be significant to the main story. The trouble is that the only character who understands this significance is dead at the time of the story, and since investigating this character's death is a part of main plot, I think it'd be better if the actual reasons for its relevence were revealed to the reader only when revealed to the (living) characters.

What I need is a way to assure the reader that there is a reason that they're getting to know these characters, without actually revealing what that reason is.

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    That reminds me of a scifi series of 4 books by Hamilton. The first was pretty much just the characters living their own lives. A scientist, a police officer, a standard 2 kids family, a former astronaut, the richest man in the galaxy, a wanted criminal, an employee of a space exploration company, a man whose wife was murdered, and so on. Although only one of them was involved with the main plot at the beginning, they all gradually gained relevance. Some took especially long to get involved, but I didn't need to know why/how that would happen, because their own storylines were engaging enough. – Patsuan Jun 27 '17 at 14:47
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Why do you think you need to make it seem significantly relevant early on?

All you need is to make the thread interesting.

You may drop a couple hints. Hang some Chekov guns. Signal the reader the thread is of any relevance, no matter how minor. And then make that thread good. Make it a captivating story on its own. As long as the thread is interesting, and in the end it clearly binds with the story, everything is fine.

You'll need a little more effort if the thread can't "stand on its own". Probably the best is to bind it to the main thread through "key elements". Items, letters, details that were key points of the side thread pop up in the main thread immediately afterwards - not immediately in the story time, but immediately, in text - say, a hundred years ago, a betrayed lover drops a ring into the pond behind the house, then turns, to walk away. Section break, back to main thread. Protagonist spots a bright glint of metal on the bottom of the pond. You don't need to point how that's important, but you need to keep making references - building the mystery.

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I'm pretty much with SF's answer on this one. I'll go even further. The desire to provide instant gratification is what makes a story boring.

It is frequently said that opening paragraphs must hook the reader, I disagree. Your opening must inspire confidence - you know exactly what you're doing and why you're doing it. Anything that seems irrelevant now will become relevant when the time is right.

In "The Blues Brothers" Carrie Fisher spends the majority of the story trying to kill Jake for no apparent reason.

Creating intrigue is a large part of novel writing. Generating questions causes the reader to turn pages. Seemingly unrelated scenes cause the reader to think "WTF is going on?" The answer is: they'll have to turn the page to find out.

e.g.

I open with a woman standing on a bridge, crying, naked, looking down into the water below. There are police and press everywhere. A negotiator is shouting at the woman through a megaphone.

  • Stick a pin. I'll leave you wondering: Who is she? Why is she there? Will she? Won't she?

The next scene shows two girls, besties, in a college dorm. I can spend a few chapters bringing you up to speed with lives, hopes and aspirations.

  • I must now consider the questions you are asking. How do these girls relate to girl in the opening scene? Did these girls bully that girl? Will one of these girls turn out to be the girl on the bridge?

Next I'll launch another storyline: A college professor kisses his young wife and child before leaving for work . . .

  • As a reader you're going speculate as to how I'm going to put all this together. And you're going to read on to see if you're right. As a writer, I'm going to show that I am smarter and more devious than you could ever be - you're going to get the answer wrong.

It's an intriguing style.

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