Updated: Nov 29, 2021
So, we’ve talked about the character arc and the major plot points for your novel. But how about combining that main plot line with the other characters who reside within the story?
If you have used multiple points of view (POV), you need to work out both the emotional arc and the major plot points for all characters who hold their own plot line. Theirs may not be as complex as your protagonist’s, but they must still work under the same story principles - emotional arc, turning points, climax and resolution. If it helps, the plot lines and emotional developments of these more minor characters work rather like fitting in a short (though connected) story into your overall novel plot.
Often, their climatic scenes will combine with and add tension to your protagonist’s climax. Usually, the use of multiple POVs provides sub-plots (so be wary how many you use as, the more there are, the more complicated it is working it all out.) So…
9.) First consider your principle POV character. In addition to the arc and the four main plot arenas, can you identify their main story goals for each section? Story goals will change but are always in pursuit of the over-arcing plot goal, while often setting into motion increasing story stakes.
What usually happens in a story is that once the protagonist enters into the new and unusual world of the main story -- after the first major turning point -- their new goal becomes a matter of survival and the real story stakes are established.
So, a couple of examples: In Girl with a Pearl Earring, Griet’s initial goal is to keep her head down and do a good job at her new employers’ home so that she can earn money to feed her struggling family. Once she enters this new environment, it is clear that she is unwelcome by several members of the household who would jump on any opportunity to have her sacked. As opposed to keeping her head down, she attracts much more attention and jealousy than she is comfortable with or deserves. Thus, maintaining her reputation becomes a matter of survival. If she fails, not only will she be sacked, but unlikely employed by any other household in Delf, leaving her family destitute Therefore, Griet’s initial goal remains, but her story goal changes to something more immediately personal and less abstract: keeping her good reputation. Not as easy as one might think when everyone seems out to get her and she must navigate conflicting household politics, deflect any inappropriate male attention, and keep her enemies at bay, all which threaten to undermine the reputation she so painstakingly tries to protect.
Another example coming from film this time: in Back to the Future, Marty must return to his own time so that he doesn’t change the course of history, even on a minor scale. But when he finds he has already inadvertently done so, his own existence is in jeopardy. Although his initial goal of returning to 1985 still remains the overall target, he must first achieve his new story goal (make his parents fall in love) in order to reach it, or be erased from existence entirely (which is worse than death, right?) It's very much a case of 'in order to get that, I must first do this' and is a fundamental story principle.
With both these examples, their immediate story goals are constantly challenged with direct opposites and it is a test of their characters if they will overcome those challenges or fold and fail.
So, does your main protagonist have goals? How do they change and how are they challenged by them? You can include these bullet points in your spreadsheet (I.E. under the chapter or scene where these main goals change), or use the comments boxes (see Friday’s post)
**as a note, we are focusing on the MAIN story goals, not scene/chapter goals. These main goals are likely to shift in line with your four plot arenas, and up the story stakes.
10) Work out your other POV characters’ three act structures and emotional developments and, if you haven’t already, write them into your spreadsheet, each with their own row. Do they have their own goals and challenges? What are they? Do they all deserve their own plot lines, or are they being used as a convenient ‘carry’ for details that should/could be conveyed through your main POV character(s)?
11.) Decide which POV characters stay and which ones go and consider how you will portray the same information from those dropped POVs through your MC’s (or other POVC’s) narrative. Note down your ideas. These are not cast in stone – you might have better ideas as you work through your revisions.
*If you find you are running out of room on your spreadsheet to note all your new ideas, you can always turn to using a note taking software. Evernote or Onenote are two good options for this, if you're using Windows OS.
12.) If you haven’t got a full emotional arc or three act structure for the POVCs that remain, mark on your spread sheet in red what developments need to happen either within their current scenes or within new scenes to meet those elements.
How many chapters will it take for your sub-plot POVs to complete a full emotional arc and meet the four markers of the three act structure (see part 1 and part 2 of this series)? Are there any scenes written in another character’s POV where you can develop the sub-plot POVs through the interaction, body language or dialogue within that scene? Or even through the knowledge of other minor characters?
So, for example, working within POVC1’s narrative filter, POVC1 observes POVC2 being stressed or worried and asks what’s the matter. POVC2 explains he’s just been given the sack. Alternatively, a different minor character could relate to POVC1 that POVC2 has been given the sack and that they are worried about them. Either way, you have progressed POVC2’s sub-plot without switching into his POV and writing a whole separate scene to accommodate it. (If that’s too confusing and you have further questions, please post in comments and I will try to answer).
13.) Now the trickiest part regarding POV. How can your POVC’s plot lines connect more? This is where you need to dig deep and look at how each character can drive the plot for other characters by way of either challenging them (being an obstacle or antagonist), or collaborating and helping them (that could be something as simple as inadvertently motivating them).
Other things to look out for: where characters cross paths and whether to develop or strengthen relationships between them, where one person’s actions, loyalties or motivations affect another person’s circumstances. This is where much of that rewriting I mentioned in Part 2 comes in, because you might find that, by connecting plot threads, new motivations and conflicts of emotions spring up and chapters must be rewritten to accommodate them.
14.) The other tricky part, once you have done this, is to make sure that the right information is fed into each chapter in the right order between POVC chapters.
Yep, it ain’t easy. And this is just the first revision! However, this is the last part in this series, and there’s still many more layers of novel editing I haven’t covered. Still, these blog posts should -- I hope! -- give any of you flounderers out there a solid base to work from. I strongly encourage you to seek out regular critique partners to help you along the way, though. Bespoke insight into your project cannot be beaten, because, as I’m sure you realise, every story is its own beast and comes with its own unique quirks and problems.
If you liked this series, please share it with your writing buddies. If you’re interested in learning more about planning and writing around plot, check out my online classes. I am gradually adding to them each month, and future classes will go into plotting through character and plotting by setting.
Have a great week!