bookmark_borderWriting Each Subplot Separately

My plan for my novel includes one primary inciting incident, followed by internal and external struggles, and ending with an opportunity for the protagonist to finish what was interrupted the first time.

But I don’t have a lot of material for the middle, partly because she’s been struggling with this for years prior to the inciting incident.

I am pantsing. I started with an interesting character and wrote some old incidents and some internal narrative where she tries to understand both herself and how she fits into the world. This allowed me to write myself into the story and to learn about her so I have a lot of backstory that shows why her unusual trait is difficult to live with. I don’t want to put all of that before the inciting incident. That would push the incident far back and might risk losing the reader, as if the opening of Star Wars had spent the first half an hour showing Luke’s childhood. The alternative is to put this all as flashback in the middle build but they are stand alone vignettes and internal narrative and lack action and forward propulsion. Too much of that will stall the story.

As I’ve been writing myself into the story I’ve discovered that her relationship with her father is another sub plot. I knew they were distant, I knew some of the reasons why, but as I wrote I felt there was more to it. Now I have a vague plan for this to be revealed and for the protagonist and probably her father as well to understand this and to grow through it and to come out the other side changed. In other words, this is a separate plot with its own arc.

What I enjoy most about writing is solving the puzzles. Once I realized that the relationship with her father is a subplot I also saw that I can decide the structure after I write the three plot lines: the main one, and her internal struggle before and after the inciting incident, and her relationship with her father. I can write them as three separate stories and figure out how to merge them and what order to present them to the reader after they’re done or nearly done.

Life, even a fictional character’s life, does not always nicely follow the three act or hero’s journey structure.

This feels good, meaning, quite possibly the right solution.

It is freeing to see this because it gives me some direction but it also allows me to write the plots separately. I don’t have to worry about the opening or when the backstory should appear or about generating more middle. I can continue pantsing, exploring more aspects of the characters and trying out more history and building a more complete psychological and family profile given what I already know and the circumstances that have already befallen them and what I anticipate happening soon. My hope is that parts of the two sub plots will fit naturally into the middle build filling it out so I don’t have to scramble around for more material.

The advantage of using Scrivener to write is that it will be easy for me to use three separate folders and then play around with different sequences when I try merging them. I’ll even try arranging everything sequentially and see how that feels once I get close to a complete first draft. And maybe a late inciting incident will work for this story since there is an earlier incident that plays in both of the other two plots. At this moment, though, I don’t see that the earlier one can be the primary incident since it doesn’t play a role in the main story except as context. It’s true that her development is the basis of the story but the inciting incident of the main plot is what pushes her to a crisis point, and I’d like to start near the end of the story.


It’s fun to be inside the world of a novel.

I haven’t been this far inside the creation of a new novel in a very long time. Around 2013 I started to focus on improving my prose which led to shorter works. At the time I had a novel in the works but I had difficulty with the ending so I put it aside. Last spring I picked it up and finished it, but finishing an old novel was a different experience than the creation process that I’m in now.

In 2015 I wrote a few chapters of a story that I felt had the potential to drive a novel. For NaNoWriMo 2022 I picked that up and wrote into it, meaning I wrote any scenes or internal narrative that I could think of to expand or to help define the character and her situation as I understood it (and in the process, I redefined my understanding). There was other unrelated NaNo writing too but I came out with 10,000 new words of character thoughts, interactions with other characters, background moments or scenes or information for the story. I felt as if I was throwing anything and everything against a wall to see what sticks.

Some have stuck, for now, and others have moved into a Scrivener folder I call “Not ready for prime time”; material where I’m no longer confident that the event or characters or voice is a good fit. Since then I’ve added another 10,000 words of potential story, I’ve made character and plot theories, and done new or additional research on coyotes, on grief recovery, histrionics, parentification, and myths. I’ve done Story Grid analysis and decided it’s primarily a morality story with horror elements which gives me some hints in terms of plot and character and character arc targets. I have a tentative skeleton of major actions.

And I have a list of more than twenty moments that I think I should write. Most of these are not ones that tie into the primary plot. Instead they are further defining her situation and key traits and secondary characters to be layered in before and during what I see as the call to action. I write these moments when I feel I have sufficient research or sense of the voice or ways to get at them.

The list makes it easy to see whether every aspect of her personality and situation is being represented and to keep track without doing the writing yet. Something like an outline, except I have no idea about the order. This makes it seem like the story is a character sketch, and it is. I’m writing as if I were sketching and organizing a memoir, which is, I think, the way a novel should be written. I suspect some of these will need to be pruned or merged once I’ve got a complete draft but if get them all down at least I have them available for consideration.

At the same time I’m plucking at these moments and at other things such as the themes, and at unclear elements like characters who have not appeared yet, or traits of existing characters that don’t feel right, and at my research notes, and at targets like the Story Grid elements, and at my hopes for what I want the reader to get from the story. I’m plucking at all these things to see if to see if they will provide more moments to write.

I’m inside the character, feeling around for memories and thoughts and experiences to show who she is and why. I’m doing the same with secondary characters and with my character’s situation and with the proposed plot and with themes too, searching around inside for consistencies and inconsistencies and weaknesses and logical outgrowths and trying to figure out how to show these. And trying to make connections, trying to choose pieces that will hold together, trying to make it all make sense.

I’m getting buried within the novel and it’s a lot of fun. A novel is a much bigger world than a short story so it takes longer, and the longer you live with it, the more it becomes an alternative reality that you also live in.

bookmark_borderPerchance, to Sleep

Over the past few years I’ve had difficulty staying asleep. A dream might shock me awake, or, more often, sleep will slip away as if it were a veil and someone simply drew it from my face.

There seems to be popular times for this. 4 AM tops the list, followed by 2 AM, followed by 5:30 or 6 AM which is awkward given that I normally get up at 7:30. This might happen even two or three times in one evening up to four or five nights in a row. If it gets to that point, I’m struggling to get through the day and will have to crash for a nap.

In order to go back to sleep, I’ve learned that I need to keep from wandering through various rabbit holes. I need to focus. Focus on something simple yet complicated enough to keep my attention. Something visual and simple like counting sheep but a little more challenging to keep my mind’s attention.

These worked for me, for a time:

  1. Count your breaths, from one to ten and repeat, while visualizing the numbers (Arabic or Roman) – I worry that this is too close to basic mediation and I don’t want any future attempt to learn to meditate to be disrupted by this.
  2. Count breaths backward from ten to one, and visualize.
  3. Count breaths forward in another language, and visualize. – This works better. In the process I’ve become more fluent with my French, Japanese, and German counting.
  4. Count breaths backward in another language, and visualize.

These sound simple but it takes work to get my nighttime mind to stay with the plan. My mind wants to meander over residue from the previous day or to worry about the next. I need to focus, to be mindful and it will work.

But each of these methods have worn out over time. They became less effective, which is why I needed to make it more difficult. Partly it was me becoming better at counting in French, Japanese, and German, even backwards, but the predictability of the sequences made it too easy.

Now, I’ve modified it, again. Now I pick three digits, like 937, and do the sequence in English twice, then French twice, then Japanese, then German. Then, three more digits, different than the previous three, again in the four languages. Finally, the remaining three. I don’t know zero in the other languages and ten is not a single digit so I avoid that.

Once I’m done, I have worked myself into a state that allows me to go back to sleep, most of the time.

It works, for now, until that gets too easy.