Monday, January 24, 2011

Interweaving Plots

Ok, I want to talk about writers who run multiple, interweaving plots in their novels.

On the whole, it’s a good thing. It stops the story from becoming stale and boring. It can take many forms, from simply switching between protagonists (or between the protagonist and the antagonist) to completely separate storylines that eventually weave together. When it’s done right, it can make a good novel great.

Unfortunately, it can also be overdone and done badly. For example, last night, I was reading a book that was constantly switching between six different, barely related threads.

When it works, it works, but a lot of overambitious authors put in too many characters, too many storylines and, suddenly, an awesome novel becomes a very frustrating read.

First of all, it can be extremely confusing. You’re reading along and suddenly you’re back picking up a cliffhanger you left fifty pages ago. You’ve passed through four other storylines and four other cliffhangers and you’re suddenly wracking your brains trying to remember who this character is and what they were doing.

When the secret agent I’ve just been introduced to leaps through a plate glass window at the top of a skyscraper, it’s exciting. But when we cut away from that and go through sixty pages of totally unrelated characters going through completely unrelated things, when we suddenly cut back to the secret agent, I’m not on the edge of my seat, desperate to see how he survived…I’m thinking “Who’s this guy again? Why’s he hanging from the side of a building?”

However, my biggest complaint about the overuse of this technique comes down to a basic reality of writing multiple plotlines: Some are going to be more interesting than others, and some you’re going to find downright boring. Suddenly, it’s not an interesting narrative technique that adds anything to the novel…it’s becomes a halfway decent story that keeps getting interrupted with boring bullshit you don’t care about.

So you’re reading the story and the secret agent and his sexy assassin girlfriend are screaming the wrong way down a highway on a motorcycle being chased by ninjas on rocket-powered hang-gliders. You like these characters, the story’s rolling along, you’re enjoying every minute of it…

…but then we cut to the office of the private detective you don’t give a shit about doing something you don’t care about.

See what I mean?

1 comment:

Evan 08 said...

Oh HELZ yeah!