by Dewey Chaffee
(Naples, Florida, USA)

Question: As I build my outline (using your INCREDIBLY helpful articles here on this site. THANK you!) I have easily found an overall main character story arc. However, I have run into some confusion with how to handle my other characters because my story takes place in two completely different countries. Therefore EVERY character around the main character changes, meaning his impact character, his antagonist (which changes to the Japanese culture itself represented by a strict salary man.) and everyone else.

My question, therefore is: If all the characters around the main character change, does this automatically require, in essence, TWO separate outlines beneath my overall arc? And does this then mean that my book must be in two parts?


Would this issue be better resolved by jumping back and forth in location and time?

Answer: Thanks for the feedback. I'm glad you've found this site useful.

I'm having to infer a little here, but your question seems to be about the relationship between two storylines you're creating.

I'm also inferring that the events in Japan occur at a different time (chronological) than those in the other country.

That said, you have (as always) several options.

One way to do it is to have the events from the earlier time be the first signpost in one of the throughlines. In other words, the earlier time could present the inciting incident of the story, or the first event in the main character's arc, showing who he/she is before being pressured to change. Or it could present the first event where the main character encounters the impact character, etc.

In that case, you will probably have your book divided into two parts, with the first perhaps being an extended prologue.

Another way to do it would be to place all the events of one throughline in a different country and time, but reveal them gradually throughout the book.

For instance, you could have the overall and main character stories taking place in the present in one country, but tell the impact character's story in a series of memories or flashbacks of a different time and place. Each time the main character recalls another piece of the past, it pressures him to change his ways in the present.

In this type of story, the flashbacks explain why the main character makes the choice he does at the climax. The impact made by the impact character may be invisible to everyone else because it occurs entirely in the main character's mind.

Sometimes, the gradual revealing of the past and how it pressures the main character in the present is done not through memory but through the discovery of books, documents, or artifacts from the past. In that case, the main character may not even have met the impact character in the past, but gradually comes to learn about him/her in the present, and the more that is learned, the greater the influence the impact character has.

A third option is to use hand-offs. By that, I mean that a particular function is passed from one character to another.

For instance, maybe the main character met the impact character long ago and far away. But then in the present the main character encounters the impact character's daughter, or student, or video diary, and this entity takes on or continues the impact character's function.

Similarly, the antagonist role could be passed on to a different but similar character. The only rule is that you shouldn't have two characters playing the antagonist role in the same scene. In that case, the new antagonist represents or symbolizes the old antagonist. For example, when Spiderman doesn't stop the criminal who then shoots his uncle, he becomes determined to stop any other criminal he encounters.

So there are three options for you to play around with. As always, only you can decide what feels right for your story. Best of luck.

Comments for Book PARTS

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Jan 15, 2012
Multiple story arcs
by: Dirk

I have multiple story arcs in which I have 'A vs B'; then some 'B vs C'; 'A vs C'; 'D vs BC'. I jump between vignettes of each in an ascending tension order, carefully keeping each story arc in its own line of 'Goal, Conflict, Disaster' then 'Reaction, Dilemma, Decision' cycle.

Is this a viable method in your opinion(s)?

Jan 16, 2012
re: multiple story arcs
by: Glen

Regarding multiple storylines within one novel: like most ideas, it's the execution that determines whether it's viable.

You can have several stories within one novel, each with its own main character. Some storylines may be more fully developed than others.

The advantage is that you get to illustrate the world of your story from many angles, making it a more multi-dimentional world for the reader to explore.

The disadvantage is that the reader may not feel as emotionally involved as he would with one main character.

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