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August 14, 2015

On writing simultaneous novels: Part 1

by hmsnow1

It is not without reason that I have been absent from this forum since October. I have resumed a project that had stymied me a few years ago. I figured out what was its problem: it could not be one novel. In fact, it has turned into four novels that cover essentially the same events from different points of view. As one might imagine, this is taking a very, very long time to work out in practical terms. The specific difficulty may be stated thus: in order to write any one of these books, one must know what happens in the other three– in short, the process for developing one story expands fourfold, because none of these characters goes to exactly the same places as the others, knows exactly the same set of people as the others, etc. At the same time, there is so much overlap that they must all be handled simultaneously. I have files… oh, I have files… I’ll show you level 1 of my files. If you want a sense of the scope of this project, just count the files in this screen shot, and multiply it by six.

EyesToSee Screenshot

… because each of these files contains anywhere from four to twelve subfiles, some of which contain two or three files of their own. I will admit that I’m enjoying the challenge. It gives me reason to take my time with the characters, their environments, and their backstories. The development phase of storytelling has always been my favorite part. It’s just tricky. For instance, I discovered this morning that I had been spending so much time on the first three stories that I’d neglected the fourth. How did I discover this? By trying to fill out the outline for the first one, which turns out to be incredibly dependent on the fourth.

For the first time, I have a project that requires use of a spreadsheet in the outlining process. (It’s in the “Story Structure Elements” file.) No, not just a spreadsheet. A workbook full of spreadsheets. Its title is “Events in Parallel” because that’s exactly what I need to see: just how the four story lines run in parallel. Not every event overlaps all four stories. Some overlap two or three, while others are unique to one story alone. Here’s a sample of what I mean:

EventsInParallel Screenshot

This is a section from one quarter (Spring of the first year of the story) as I try to figure out what all four of my main characters are doing during this period of time. If you noticed the tabs at the bottom of the image, you’ll realize that I have four spreadsheets per year for… well, you can’t see all of it, but for five years of story time. I’ve only begun filling it out, but you can see how intricate this has become already.

I’ve titled this post “Part 1” for good reason. I’ll be back soon, most probably to complain about juggling four main characters and their respective satellite characters. Because all four interact to some extent, I need to know how each one views the others– except Tatsuro, who spends most of his story in a trance state. Even he has some level of interactions (in the past) with the others that shape his current situation. But that I shall leave for another post.


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