Parallel Plots
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Thread: Parallel Plots

  1. #1

    Default Parallel Plots

    Suppose you have two characters on opposing sides that share some similarities. We see them go through a struggle that occurs at the same time and is similar in circumstances yet in different areas. TV Tropes explains it better here.



    In a TV show or a movie, the script would say how "we" see them cut back and forth between the two characters to show how they're struggles are similar as well as their characters despite their differing allegiances.

    My question: how do you show that in literature (like fanfiction) without coming off as clunky or jumbled?

    If I'm not clear, ask and I'll attempt to elaborate.

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  2. #2
    Brock's Pikachu LightningTopaz's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    So we see Character A's story begin, then cut over to what Character B was doing in that same time frame?
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  3. #3

    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    I remember from some of the Animorphs books when I read those that whenever the group split up in one of the big stories that aren't numbered like the others (forget how it worked exactly), the perspective character would shift between the different characters by plot thread (and one of the prequel books bounced between the two protagonists and the antagonist) between chapters. While those all used first person (thus making the between-chapter switch work better for the story), the basic meaning of this post boils down to this: between chapters is a good place to change the perspective character without jarring readers too much with sudden shifts (although sometimes, like one chapter of Stephonika W. Kaye's Twilight Princess novelization, sudden shifts can work to build up the tension to the final confrontation).
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  4. #4

    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    Quote Originally Posted by LightningTopaz View Post
    So we see Character A's story begin, then cut over to what Character B was doing in that same time frame?
    Yes. I'm just unsure how to portray that in literature smoothly.

    Quote Originally Posted by Warrior of Fire View Post
    (although sometimes, like one chapter of Stephonika W. Kaye's Twilight Princess novelization, sudden shifts can work to build up the tension to the final confrontation).
    I'm going for more sudden shifts in the same chapter where we really see how both characters have similarities despite their differences.

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  5. #5

    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    Quote Originally Posted by matt0044 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Warrior of Fire View Post
    (although sometimes, like one chapter of Stephonika W. Kaye's Twilight Princess novelization, sudden shifts can work to build up the tension to the final confrontation).
    I'm going for more sudden shifts in the same chapter where we really see how both characters have similarities despite their differences.
    I completely understand. Your story, your decisions. The only thing that matters is that advice was given and you made note of it. Can't wait to see what you do with it.
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  6. #6

    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    Quote Originally Posted by Warrior of Fire View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by matt0044 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Warrior of Fire View Post
    (although sometimes, like one chapter of Stephonika W. Kaye's Twilight Princess novelization, sudden shifts can work to build up the tension to the final confrontation).
    I'm going for more sudden shifts in the same chapter where we really see how both characters have similarities despite their differences.
    I completely understand. Your story, your decisions. The only thing that matters is that advice was given and you made note of it. Can't wait to see what you do with it.
    Thanks but I'm not entirely sure how to pull it off on my own. I'm just asking for help.

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  7. #7
    Registered User Redshift's Avatar
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    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    Usually, the length of the story determines what method you use for switching between points of view, or timelines as you referred to them as. If you can use chapters, that's the preferred way to go. It's like in Heroes of Olympus series where the narrator changes every chapter. Do a chunk with Timeline A in Chapter 1, then do the matching one with Timeline B in Chapter 2. Rinse and repeat. That's the best way I can think of, but it does have the dangerous potential of getting repetitive if the events in the timelines are too similar. I'm sure if you keep it interesting you won't run into that problem.

    For a shorter story, you would do a similar thing where you would end a scene in Timeline A, indicate a shift in narration/point-of-view (often by using a line or symbol like this "-----"), then do the correlating scene in Timeline B. And again, you just go back and forth. But, like you said, you can't be too choppy by having short scenes or changing POVs too frequently with this method.

    Also, make sure your scenes are finished before you jump to the next POV (use cliffhangers sparingly). If you don't, your readers will forget what happened in the previous timeline and become confused.

    Hope that helps!

  8. #8

    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    Quote Originally Posted by Redshift View Post
    Also, make sure your scenes are finished before you jump to the next POV (use cliffhangers sparingly). If you don't, your readers will forget what happened in the previous timeline and become confused.
    What I have in mind is that what the opposing characters are going through are similar and at the same time and every few lines we go back and forth between them to show how they're not so different. Like after a life-altering revelation, they unload their emotional baggage over it while the scene jumps from one POV to the other multiple times to show that it's occurring at the same time.

    I guess there's no correct way of handling it in literature.

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  9. #9
    Registered User Redshift's Avatar
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    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    Yeah, that is really tough since in writing you have to be positive the reader knows what's going on.

    Mmmm, you could possibly go back and forth quickly for a short story if maybe the two events somehow met up in the end. But, I'm assuming that's not exactly what you want to do. Sorry!

  10. #10
    Your mind is a world AetherX's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    I would suggest doing what you're thinking with the back and forth scene breaks. However, I would also like to add that you should be careful with too many scene breaks one after another. I feel like it would come across as forced. You have to remember that writing is not a movie and you don't necessarily have the same tools at your disposal.

    Two or three breaks, depending on how long the scene is, should be sufficient to get your point across. Keep in mind that in movies and TV shows, symbolic scenes like this have to be made very obvious. In writing, things tend to be more subtle and implied. I'm sure your readers will catch on.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    Time is irrelevant when its not happening in real time. An indicator that 2 timelines are parallel is that they begin and end on similar notes. What happens in between is therefore considered to be parallel. In a story I'm working on the timeline of the world moves on at an even pace, but one characters timeline seems to create an entirely different story. This character is going through the same timeline, but in reverse.
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  12. #12
    Reader and Writer Legacy's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    I normally try to keep the POV consistent in a given chapter. For example if the reader is following "Character A," don't switch to "Character B" POV without ending the chapter or scene. Give some finality to the scene before switching POV.

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  13. #13
    Hero of the South Jabberwocky's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    I find it more interesting to have multiple POV characters in a given story. In what I'm writing right now, I have several characters providing POV, and while their activities don't always match up chronologically (pretty much all of their storylines take place within a different timeframe), but there are overarching plot details that I reference from time to time to have a sense of continuity and avoid the perception that these are just several standalone stories stitched together.

    Writing like that, it's generally best to only have one POV per chapter, though if I do have to switch for whatever reason I have to be sure to mark it with both the new POV's name and a date, due to the alternating timeframes.

  14. #14
    "Don't call me that name" TwinLukes's Avatar
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    Default Re: Parallel Plots

    In my main fic (Which is currently in it's fourth or so rewrite... might as well just rename it Duke Nukem Forever: the fanfic...), I have the main protagonist as the centre of the plot, but I also have an Anti-Hero whose story is more or less parallel to the hero, but has much less scenes, so I decided that once I (Finally) get to the part with his introduction, I'll start doing a separate set of chapters centred around him, and then inserting then into the chapter index of my story in the order they canonicaly happen (I.E. if the Anti-Hero's third chapter takes place between the normal hero's chapters 20 and 21, then his chapter 3 will be inserted between those two chapters, giving the reader the option to read it in canonical order or skip it in favour of the next "Regular" chapter.

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