Writing Tips & Tools

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Lesson 17: Weaving Plot Layers Together

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section TWO: Weaving a Story.

Yesterday we added layers. The next is to get them to work together. Without linking them you might as well be writing separate novels for each layer. Weaving them together is finding ways for them to coexist.

The devices that you use to make the connections are called nodes of conjunction. A setting in your story may recur in different layers, thus serving double duty. A character who faces his own problems in a subplot may bring relief, or introduce a complication, to your protag, who is facing their own conflict.

Secondary characters can get dragged into storylines they did not expect to grapple with. These are the ways in which storylines cross. Count the nodes of conjunction that weave together the layers in your novel. How many are there? Search for more!

Step 1: On a single sheet of paper, make three columns. In the first one list major and secondary characters. In the middle, list the principle narrative lines, main problems, extra plot layers, subplots, minor narrative threads, questions to be answered in the course of the story, etc, In the third column list the novel's principle places and major settings.

Step 2: With circles and lines, connect a character, a narrative line, and a place. Keep drawing lines and circles at random, making connections. See what develops. When a random connection suddenly makes sense...make notes.

Note: Try this and you will find connections you never saw before, characters that cross from one storyline to another, settings that host more than one storyline. these nodes of conjunction give a novel texture, a feeling of being woven together.

Follow-up: Add to you novel at least six of the nodes of conjunction that you came up with.

Conclusion: You may feel that you story is runninf away from you out of control. This panic is normal. Trust the process. If you have set a strong central problem, added layers, and found ways to weave them together, then the whole thing will come together in the end!


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