2

My story starts with a bunch of characters in a group, and relatively early on they split into two sub-groups who go on their independent adventures, there's geography separating them. So Group A has Plot A, Group B has Plot B, and the chapters alternate between them without there ever being contact between them, until the end when they meet up again.

Making these two plots work together well is something I have put much thought in. I am for example trying to make some of their respective high-tension points line up, be in consecutive chapters. Group A is having a fight scene when Group B is uncovering a secret; and then conversely Group A is licking their wounds and recovering while Group B goes over logistics.

The nature of the plot means that not all written events take as much time as each other. So for example, in one section I have a dozen scenes for Plot A taking place explicitly within 24 hours. I have no day in Plot B that I can conceivably stretch for that long, the 'matching' high-tension point there is character drama over the course of multiple days.

So in my current setup, you have consecutive chapters that jump around in time between them. Just for example:

  1. Plot A, takes place at June 21nd 08:00
  2. Plot B, takes place at June 20th 10:00
  3. Plot A, takes place at June 21nd 08:30
  4. Plot B, takes place at June 24th 21:00
  5. Plot A, takes place at June 21nd 09:00
  6. Plot B, takes place at July 1st 15:00

Now in-story I am rarely giving the exact times of day or even the calendar date, but these timings are clear from context, e.g. because Plot A is in the middle of a fight scene while B is doing something obviously slow. I wonder, is this trend essentially a reason to try to rewrite my plot so that A and B's consecutive chapters can always chronologically align? Or maybe for this instant I should have all the Plot A chapters in a row and give Plot B another block later on? Or are there other tricks?

1
  • Run one in flashback?
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 21 at 0:29

2 Answers 2

2

Unless there is an important reason to narrate some of the events out of sync, narrate all the events chronologically. Parallel events can be told in any order.

For example, if group A does something (that you want to narrate) on days 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7, and group B does something on days 2, 3, and 6, then your chapters could look like this:

chapter scene day group
1               1   A
2               2   B
3               3   B
3               3   A
4       1       4   A
        2       5   A
6               6   B
7               7   A

Do not narrate filler just to have equal numbers of chapters for both groups!

You also don't need to sync the plot points. Group A can have an action scene at the same time that group B has a rest scene. In fact, for the overall dynamic of your story it might be better to do something like:

A       B     B       A     B       A     A
action, rest, action, rest, action, rest, action ...

instead of

A       B       A     B     A       B       A
action, action, rest, rest, action, action, rest ...
7
  • Regarding the latter, would you not find it grating to leave in the middle of a high-stakes conflict in Group A and then move into a comedic conversation with the B group? I feel like I would want to know how the conflict ends first, and be tempted to skip the low-tension chapter. So, because the big moments take multiple scenes to resolve, I try to align them. So, more like A action, B action, A action, B action, A rest B rest
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Jun 20 at 11:29
  • 1
    @KeizerHarm That is a general problem when you switch between different characters and locations. Readers will always have to make an effort to let go if the characters they are currently invested in and interest themselves in another character they currently don't care about as much. That is why many readers prefer stories that are told from one viewpoint (or two viewpoints that stick to the same location, as in a love story) or, if they read multiple-viewpoint stories, skip chapters. It has little to do with what happens in the chapters and more with the viewpoint switch.
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 20 at 11:34
  • As for the first, I see that the recommendation is to align anyway. I think it is difficult because, even without considering the 10-scenes-in-a-day example, I have also 5-scenes-in-a-month. I skip weeks in one plot, and not necessarily the same weeks as I would skip in the other. I suppose that would be a reason to make a collection of consecutive A chapters by your advice? Or just make some chapters much longer than others, that would also keep my structure intact. I feel like I need the regularity in my POV-switching to make it remain comprehensible.
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Jun 20 at 11:37
  • Though, to be honest, this is starting to feel like a self-inflicted wound. Like I had a problem earlier "how do I make a conversation in an empty room interesting?" and the obvious solution was not to have an empty room in the first place. So maybe I should be trying to change the plot and making slow-paced and fast-paced moments from the plots align, to a certain extent.
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Jun 20 at 11:39
  • 1
    @KeizerHarm I have read many novels where different viewpoints get unequal numbers of chapters and/or where one viewpoint can have multiple chapters in a row. My advice is: Worry about each viewpoint's plot dynamic and organize the chapters chronologically. Do not worry about the rhythm of viewpoint switches or the parallelism between the plots of different viewpoints.
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 20 at 11:40
2

We see much the same thing in Star Wars, when Luke Skywalker heads off to meet Yoda and do training as a Jedi, while Hans Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia are having their own adventure, but they all sync up in the end.

Skywalkers "journey" is pretty sedate, but there are parallels -- He faces a monster in a cave, the other crew faces a monster that is a cave.

Their plots are different but resonant.

Don't worry about keeping them in sync, in fact it is useful when one thread goes through an unexciting period, for the other to go through a more exciting period.

So the reader sees excitement for group 1, and while they recoup and recover, or travel, group 2 is heating up. Meanwhile, group 1 is sifting through the archive of records they found (boring). But when we come back to group 1, we see bored-out-of-her-mind Kathleen, skimming through yet another book of spells, turning pages as she complains to Alice about it.

"OH, look, that's about the three hundredth love spell. Misfortune spell. This one ... This one ... Holy shit, Alice! Look at this spell!"

And they are off.

Use the POV change to paper over the boring parts.

Let each plot move at its own pace, readers won't care. They are separate stories. As long as they arrive for the team efforts in the same place and same time, all is good.

If you need to, make Group 1 and Group 2 have different length chapters. Again, readers won't care.

So create echoes and parallels, they shouldn't be exact. Reader's may not even consciously note the parallels; but they emotionally connect the two threads.

Luke's cave experience was psychological danger, The Hans Solo crew's cave experience was physical danger of literally being eaten, which they barely escaped.

Generalize to a high level. Above Kathleen finds something surprising her crew can use. The same thing can happen to the other crew, an unexpected discovery that gives them new information or a new weapon in their fight.

The trick is to not worry about the time. Relate your two plots intentionally out of sync, so key information is revealed at the end of each chapter for that crew. The reader will look forward to what they do with this. At the beginning of each chapter, the reader is looking forward to the other crew and what they are doing when we left them last, with their new development.

I don't recall the story, but I have even seen this work with centuries between the two crews; except the later crew finally found what the (now long gone) other crew had left for them to find.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.