Plots & Characters: When Plots Converge, Protagonists Collide
So, nine subplots. Nine unique storylines … to be woven into one novel. A single overarching plot. What was I thinking?!
Not much, truth be told. So I’m not sure I can take the blame. I have yet to actually plan one of the subplots. Not consciously, anyway.
Initially, I foresaw two subplots. Two seed ideas that just came to me. Out of the ether. And I faithfully sketched their origin stories. But then things went mad. Crazy mad. Characters started emerging, demanding their tale be told. Kingdoms and tribes suddenly appeared, as if by magic. Subplots grew out of the soil of my curiosity, and before I knew it, two ideas had monstered into nine tales that insisted on expression. Seven took shape almost as if by spontaneous combustion. The eighth and ninth took a little longer to flesh out. Okay, a lot longer.
Having written nine books to date (under various pseudonyms), I am well acquainted with my role in the writing process. That is, once the ink starts spilling (what do pixels do?), the creator becomes a slave to his creation. The protagonist assumes charge, or at least takes charge of the writer’s immediate flow of thought. Yes, the characters remain subject to the world into which they are born, and their fate is entwined within the overall plot conceived in the author’s mind. But … but in every book I’ve written, I’m left playing catch up.
So, driven and shaped by the protagonist’s agenda (his sense of purpose, his desires, his passions and foibles) and his dealings with his world, I can only describe what is already happening. What trouble the protagonist has found himself in, what trial he’s enduring, what conflict he’s facing, what battle he’s winning … or losing. Seldom do I get to chart the course. In fact, it’s all I can do to hold on tight. Teeth clenched and knuckles white.
As the saying goes: The plot shapes the characters and the characters drive the plot. What isn’t said enough is this: the pitiable author gets dragged along by both plot and character.
But for me, this is where the true joy of writing lies. After imbibing the initial idea, the writer’s mind becomes a blank(ish) canvas upon which the characters, and their interactions, create all sorts of wonderful chaos. We get to watch the events occur in real time; literally, our seats are front and centre. The challenge is to describe the proceedings swiftly enough so as not to halt or break the stream of consciousness.
Now, here’s my dilemma. Did I mention that I’ve got nine subplots to weave together into one novel? Nine subplots!
George R.R. Martin has been hailed (or hated) for his tendency to kill off key characters in his books. There are all sorts of reasons he does this, and I was quick to laud his courage, too. But now I know the secret. He didn’t really have a choice. Throw strong-willed characters into the same story and conflict is inevitable. Should these same characters be belligerent and murderous, then there’s going to be blood. Lots of it.
When subplots converge, protagonists collide. And carnage ensues.
Nine into one doesn’t go easily. Or without a good fight. Nine subplots cannot all have happy endings. One profits at another’s expense. One must die for another to live.
I’m as nervous/excited about what’s going to happen next as I hope readers will ultimately be. I’m just praying that one of my protagonists doesn’t realise the power he has over me and hijack the entire plot.