Writing 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.