The Writing Life

…a literary journey

Handling Multiple Story Arcs


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I just finished editing the first draft of my novel Oldsters, and one of the toughest things was making sure I navigated between my five main characters successfully. When I started writing the book, I considered making two of the characters equal protagonists. Over time, however, the story unfolded in such a way that helped me to see that Eddie Barnes is the person whose story was screaming out to be told. Once I understood that, I was free to develop all five characters in a way that respected each of their stories individually, but connected their story arcs throughout the book in a way that hopefully makes the novel an enjoyable read.

One way I made sure that Eddie clearly stood out from the others was giving him more camera time, which in novel-writing means more scenes from his POV. A cool feature of the yWriter 5 software I used is the timeline that shows you every scene on a continuum and based on whose POV you chose from your character list. A quick glance lets you know if you have other characters with too many scenes in comparison to your protagonist…then it’s up to you to either re-write or re-think whose story you’re trying to tell.

I love each of my five characters equally, and while I made a choice to put Eddie front and center, that didn’t mean that the other four didn’t have their own wonderful stories to tell. It just meant I was carving out more work for myself…each one them had to have their own obstacles to deal with, and somehow change (for the better or worse) during their time with the reader…otherwise, they really had no business taking up precious pages.

While Ray, Bette, Nick and Lila all have their own tales to tell, I want to make sure that those stories don’t feel completely disjointed, and that’s where theme comes in. Oldsters explores the theme of mortality, and how there’s more similarities than differences between people of all ages. Struggles of betrayal, friendship, self-doubt plague everyone at times – no matter if they’re 25 or 75. The opportunity for second chances, whether it’s in regards to  love or work – can be found when it’s least expected.

The story arcs of all five characters could stand alone, but definitely need to intersect. Having them share some significant events throughout the novel, allows me to show both the individual and group perspective and reactions.

I enjoyed writing all five of these characters – elderly rebels who are sometimes at odds with each other, but unite without question when it’s necessary. The professor, the artist, the horse lover/bookie, the gentleman and the lady – my motley crew! If you want to learn how I originally breathed life into each of them, check out this post.

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