Interludes in Second Act

by Grafton
(United States)

Hi Glen! Thank you for your priceless posts and advice.


My novel begins with a prologue that occurs in the protagonist's past, from her first-person POV. After that, in Part 1 of the novel, every other chapter is a continuation of that story taking place in the past. That story ends by the end of Part 1.

In Part 2, the chapters dividing the actual story are Interludes, telling the respective stories of three different characters who don't get much screen time otherwise. I did it this way because the three characters only get screentime (couldn't think of a better term) in the actual story in the last three chapters of the novel.

All that said, my question is twofold: do you think formatting Part 2 this way weakens it, and is 13 chapters of actual story too short?

Thank you for your time.

Answer: Your structure may be a little unusual in that...

1. The prologue sounds like it's quite extended. Usually a prologue is about one event -- the story's initial driver or inciting incident. The more developed and lengthy it is, the more risk that it will take over and become a story in itself.

2. Your secondary characters are introduced rather late. This may make it harder to give them well developed arcs that help the reader fall in love with them. Also, you don't want their extra "screentime" to feel like an afterthought. You want it to pull the reader in.

Now, there's nothing technically wrong with how you envision this story, but if I were to suggest an idea for you to play around with and see how it feels, I would suggest that you consider having all these throughlines (the main plot, backstory, and 3 secondary arcs) all unfold before the reader's eyes simultaneously.

Of course, you have to alternate them chapter by chapter. But could all five throughlines extend over the course of the book?

Could the secondary characters be introduced in the first act? (Would it make it easier for you to develop them?)

What effect would it have if the reader doesn't find out how the backstory ends until just before the climax of the main plot? (Would it create more suspense?)

As for 13 chapters being too few to develop the main plot...

You always have to weigh the trade-off. Having secondary point-of-view characters and parallel arcs gives the reader a broad perspective and understanding of the story, It's a structure that often creates a stronger intellectual experience. But it also weakens the reader's connection to the main character and emotional involvement in the main plot.

On the other hand, telling the story entirely from the main character's point-of-view, without a lot of backstory creates a closer connection between the reader and the character and gives the reader a narrower perspective on the story. It's a structure that often leads to a stronger emotional experience.

Either approach can result in a meaningful story, and it's not an either/or choice. There's lots of grey area. You just have to decide what makes this particular story more meaningful to you.

Some people enjoy the intellectual experience of seeing how several independent characters and plotlines play a role in creating the outcome.

Others prefer the emotional experience of being in one character's shoes, experiencing how that character chooses to act and make decisions based on their limited perspective, and seeing how those choices lead to the outcome.

Best of luck.

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