If you’re writing a novel, how many storylines should it have? How many is too many? How do you handle them all?
Josey posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’ve been using your Snowflake method to organize my idea for a fiction novel. (I really like it by the way). My question is this: In the process of character sketching and writing the synopsis, it has occured to me that each of the main characters could possibly have their own story. Is that normal? And should I consider doing that or keep going with the story I’ve planned?
Also another question. (I hope it’s ok to ask two) If your category is mystery, does the snowflake method still work? I have a few ideas for a mystery type of story, but in thinking through the snowflake method I’m finding it hard to work the story into that model. I haven’t actually sat down and written anything out yet so I don’t really know if it will work or not. I’m just curious right now. The idea is in it’s beginning stages and I haven’t thought it completely through yet.
I have Writing Fiction for Dummies and I think it is great!
Randy sez: It’s normal for each of the main characters in a novel to have their own storyline. In fact, if you don’t, the novel is going to feel very thin. It’ll feel like the characters are tacked on to play some role in your story.
In real life, everybody thinks they’re the lead character in the story. Think about it. You’re the lead character in your own life, aren’t you? You don’t exist merely to play the role of “humble minion” in your boss’s story. You don’t exist so as to be the “spouse” in your spouse’s story. You don’t exist to play the role of “wicked step-mother” for your step-daughter Cindy.
It’s possible that you do actually play one or more of those roles in other people’s stories. But those aren’t your main role. Your main role is to be the hero or heroine of your own story.
Likewise for every one of your characters. Each of them is the lead character in the novel of their life.
So Josey, what you’ve found is that your characters are real people, and that’s good. I’m not sure I understand part of your question, however. There’s an ambiguity in your question, “And should I consider doing that or keep going with the story I’ve planned?”
If you’re asking whether you ought to write a separate novel for each of those characters, the answer is no. If you do that, you’ll have a cast of main characters for each novel. Each of those main characters will have his or her own story. Then you’ll want to split out separate novels for each of them. And that process will never end.
If you’re asking whether it’s okay to have multiple storylines in your novel, then the answer is yes. That’s good. That’s the right way to do things. Your primary storyline will belong to your lead character. But each of the other main characters will have a storyline, and you’ll assign some amount of space in your novel to develop that story.
But your novel is NOT six different novels in one book. Your novel should be one novel, with separate threads for each of the main characters. You can have as many of these as you have main characters. The amount that you write for each one will depend on how important each thread is to your main thread — the storyline of your lead character. If a thread is closely tied in to the main story, then it should get a lot of airtime. If it’s a peripheral thread, then it should get a little. If it’s not related at all, then yank it out of your story, because it doesn’t belong.
As for the question of whether the Snowflake method works for mysteries, the answer is yes. The Snowflake method is designed to be useful for any kind of story. I’ve never written a mystery myself, but I have some ideas in mind for stories that might be mysteries. I would use the Snowflake method to design those stories, just like any other novel I’d write.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.