As some of you might know, the book I’m currently writing is a frame story – a story within another story. For this project, I wanted two parallel plotlines, but with one important change. In my project the two stories never converge, not even at the climax as a traditional duel plotline will. This is not a story structure many writers use, and even fewer offer advice on how to use it correctly. So when looking for help with this tricky story, I turned to movie and TV screenwriters for inspiration and guidance.
By studying the six types of parallel narrative structures in screenplays and by reading scripts, I’ve gleaned 4 tricks that will strengthen any novel with two or more non-converging plot lines.
- Create linkage between the plots
Something must bind the plots. In my case, one storyline takes place in the past while the framing story takes place in the present. I used the setting as the tool to bind them together. Both stories take place in the same small fictional town and the landmarks and geography of that town became the physical anchor for the two plots.
- Mirror the themes and metaphors
I did this in a few different ways. First, I repeated the number of characters in each storyline. Both have ten characters. I also repeated relationship patterns. For example, both plots have one set of siblings and a former romantic couple. They also share a creepy tone.
- Make key plot points correspond
Although the inciting incidents worked out fine, I’m still struggling with making the midpoint reversals happen at about the same time. Also, synchronizing the climaxes is not going to be easy. I’m not there yet, but I can already tell I’m going to need to make some story adjustments.
- Use different but compatible goals for each storyline
One protagonist wants to set right a mistake and mend a broken relationship, while his companions want to escape a winter storm that has them trapped. In the other storyline, the protagonist wants to break a curse, thereby freeing herself, but also damming her companions. Freedom, forgiveness and release become the reoccurring goals in both plots.
The structure I’m using in my project is closest to what screenplay writers call tandem narrative. Some examples of tandem narrative are the films Sliding Doors and Traffic. I also found reading the script for The Princess Bride very helpful.
Since I feel like I’m on fresh ground with my parallel non-converging plots, I would love to hear from anyone who has more tips to share.