A plot is composed of the following:

Inciting Incident
Rising Action or Progressive Complications

Can you have a novel where a plot ends with the heroes finishing his journey, and then have him go to another journey in the same novel, and then another. If so, how much is too much? I am thinking there might be some situations where it make sense, but it doesn't make any sense most of the time. Could you give a few example of novels that have several plots one after another and does so effectively without losing the readers?

  • 2
    If there are several plots in a story, they are usually parallel, so a character is going on a physical quest, but also a self-fulfillment one and a family-connecting one. They are sub-plots to the main. If you have repeated plots like you are suggesting, it's more like a series of short stories in a collection. You could do it, but you'd need an overarching plot to unify all the disparate pieces.
    – DWKraus
    Jul 20 '21 at 1:51
  • 2
    There are authors who manage such episodic plots. It works if each story is intact in itself.
    – Mary
    Jul 20 '21 at 2:29
  • why was this post downvoted?
    – Sayaman
    Jul 24 '21 at 14:24

You may want to look at some fix-up novels. These are works built up of smaller pieces of fiction that were often published separately first. Two such works are A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. and Operation Chaos by Poul Anderson. These give you an idea how such smaller stories can fit into a larger one.

  • 1
    Do you know of any more recent fix-up novels? I haven't seen many lately, and those are usually collections of short stories for a large, pre-existing series, like the Honorverse. I think both of these are from the 70's.
    – DWKraus
    Jul 20 '21 at 2:39
  • Excuse me, Canticle was from the 50's.
    – DWKraus
    Jul 20 '21 at 2:40
  • The most recent example I can find is 2016, Central Station, but it's aan old style. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – DWKraus
    Jul 20 '21 at 3:01
  • Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
    – Weckar E.
    Jul 24 '21 at 8:08

If you're writing a novel, you even need to use multiple storylines. Most often, there is a love line in novels, and you can also tell more about the minor characters. Usually such novels combine detective story, mysticism, history and high prose.

There is something similar in the book "Panserhjerte" by U Nesbø and "The Passenger" by Jean-Christophe Granger. Try to read them, maybe they will inspire you and answer some questions.

  • 4
    Welcome to Writing.SE! You seem to be referring to subplots told in parallel with the main narrative; the question is actually about having multiple main narratives told one after the other.
    – F1Krazy
    Jul 20 '21 at 12:55

Any decent novel is going to have multiple plot lines, each containing most of the elements of plot that you listed. Not all characters or figures in a story are working towards the same goals - and often enough, even when they do have the same goals they have different routes to reaching them.

Take a (relatively) new novel - The Far Side of the Stars by David Drake.

There are two main groups of characters in the story. One group is the crew of the starship Princess Cecile under the command of Captain Daniel Leary. The other (small) group is composed of a rich nobel and his wife. Those two have purchased the Princess Cecile from the Navy of Leary's world. He was the ship's commander while it belonged to the Navy. The rich folks hired him as captain for their travels to far away planets.

The rich folks are (on the surface) traveling just for the fun of it. See far off exotic places, visit planets that are barely settled, hunt strange animals, etc. Behind their plans, however, is the search for a lost artefact from their home planet - a head sized diamond carved with a map of the Earth.

Leary's goal is, obviously, to see the shipowners safely through their travels. Part of his motivation is, however, a desire to stay with his ship and to keep the best crew the Navy ever had together.

The communications officer of his crew (Adele Mundy) is (besides her normal duties) a spy working for her and Leary's government, with a mission to gather intelligence about enemy expansion into the regions the rich folks want to visit.

Adele also has an interest in visiting a particular world along the planned route because one of her few surviving relatives lives there.

All have different motivations and goals. Some goals belong to all of the groups, some goals are personal, and some goals belong to one of the sub-groups.

Reaching those individual goals leads to multiple overlapping and interacting plot lines, with each plot line containing nearly all of your plot characteristics.

Even reaching individual smaller goals contain all the elements of a plot line.

At one point, they land on a particular planet to hunt "dragons" - flying snake-like things that live in naturally occurring (or are they artifical and made by a long vanished intelligent race?) crystal pyramids.

The landing, the preparations, the hunt, the narrow escape from an attacking dragon, and the hurried lift off afterwards contain all the elements of a full plot line - but only fill a single twenty page chapter.

The novel actually ends with the rich folks reaching their main goal (recovering the Earth diamond,) and Leary, Adele, and the crew taking on and achieving a new goal made necessary by the results of Adele's research. Meeting the new challenge is also only possible because of the things learned and encountered while working towards the previous goals.

Alternatively, you might consider something like The Hard Way Up by A. Bertram Chandler. It is rather like the "fix up" novels mentioned by Mary. The novel tells part of the story of how John Grimes went from officer of the space navy of the Earth to being the Admiral of the Fleet for a bunch of rebellious planets far from Earth and the other settled planets. Each story was published individually, then they were collected to form the book.

Grimes is a competent officer who generally does his best to do things right - but has the misfortune to encounter problems that can't be solved in any right way. The over-arching target of all the stories is that he's going to be run out of the service eventually, and that it won't be for anything he personally screwed up.

The stories are separate, but some do make occassional references to events in earlier stories.

That novel works because it isn't a continuous flow of "whack-a-mole" with Grimes being smacked with the next problem while still recovering from the previous one. There's always an implied pause of weeks or months between adventures.

As you may be able to tell, I have read both of those books and enjoyed them immensely. In addition to the good plots, they also have things to say about people and history and politics.

In summary, a good novel may contain multiple smaller plots that contribute to the larger plot and theme of the novel.

A bad novel will simply have random events involving the same characters because the author doesn't know where the story is going. A good author constructs the individual pieces to form a whole.

  • Yes, but most such plots are parallel, not serial.
    – Mary
    Jul 20 '21 at 23:30
  • @Mary: Most good novels have serial plots as well as parallel plots. In The Far Side of the Stars, the ship travels to several planets, one after another. There's an overarching "travel" plot, but the visit to each planet has its own plot - the individual planet plots are serial.
    – JRE
    Jul 21 '21 at 7:02

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