Some stories work fine with a single hero pursuing one goal, but occasionally, a story will get boring in the middle, especially if there isn’t enough conflict to sustain it. Although the use of a single hero pursing a single desire is the best way to explore that character fully, the use of mulitple plotlines is a great way to explore the story in new ways, while increasing conflict at the same time.
How To Use Multiple Plotlines
The Empire Strikes Back is a great example of how to use multiple plotlines in a story. There are two main stories in this tale: Luke Skywalker’s “inner” journey of personal discovery as he learns to use the Force, and the “outer” story of his companions, Leia, Han, Chewie and the two droids. The second plotline is intertwined with the first one. Both plotlines affect each other. Otherwise, the story would fragment into two separate stories and it would fall apart.
The use of mutiple plotlines allows the writer to keep the story moving when things begin to slow down. To keep the story alive, the writer simply jumps between storylines at the height of action, so the audience is constantly engaged. This is known as the scene crosscut, or crosscutting.
So, when using multiple plotlines in your stories, make sure that they affect each other in some way, or make them about the same kind of thing. In a typical sitcom, there may be three separate stories, all about the same subject. Each story will demonstrate a different aspect of the theme.
How It Works
Take the Seven Steps of Classical Story Structure taught by John Truby in his book, “The Anatomy of Story” and apply them to each plotline. Then move through each step one at a time, jumping between the separate storylines. This will create a weave of scenes that will drive the story home with the audience. Look at shows like LOST to get an idea of how this works.
Take your story and add another plotline or two with these steps.
1. Take your story and look at how you can create separate storylines with different characters.
2. Look at your main story and see how you can develop it into different aspects. For instance, if you’re writing about the loss of a loved one, how can you tell the same kind of story with different characters and storylines?
3. Detail each of the seven steps of classical story structure with each plotline. For more information on this, read “The Anatomy of Story.”
4. Weave the separate storylines into one single story, with jump cuts between each storyline.
5. You may want to emphasize one story or one character over the others.
6. How do the separate storyilines affect each other? Are the separate storylines about the same kind of thing? Are all of the characters pursuing the same goal?
7. At the end of the story, bring everything together. End each plotline one at a time or all at once.
What to do now
Examine your story and see if it might benefit with the use of this technique. Not all stories are made better this way. The advantages of using multiple plotlines are increased conflict, jump cuts at the height of each plotline which will maintain interest and more ways to examine the story problem. However, if you want to explore a single character in more depth, then you may want to hold off on using this technique.