Something that I really admire in fiction is the ability to fully develop several characters’ story arcs and then tangle them together in interesting ways. For example, think of the crew on “Firefly.” When that first episode starts off, you can tell that the main characters each have their own storylines going, even as they’re united by the spaceship and their general mission. Then River and Simon come aboard, and we get to learn their storylines as the other main characters do. Throughout the show, each characters’ personal goals and traits tangle together to create one cohesive story. Each character is so rich and well-developed, and their coming together means the story is also rich and well-developed.
It might be helpful to think of these storylines as strings. In a recent blog post, Chuck Wendig — author and blogger extraordinaire — said, “The story is the string tying a character’s problem to the struggles in fixing that problem. Multiple characters mean multiple strings.” To create a story that makes sense for the characters you’ve included, you must follow that string. In “Firefly,” Mal is steady in the rules he imposes on his ship and the belief that he was on the right side in the war. As long as he follows that string, his story will make sense for him.
Of course, creating a plot string for each character and having them follow it isn’t enough. “Firefly” would not have been quite so interesting if each person had simply kept to their own storyline, following their own singular plot and never mingling with the other characters. Once you have those plot strings, you have to cross them and get them tangled up together to create plot. So, Mal decides to help River and Simon, and then Simon becomes involved with Kaylee, and so on.
Setting the string metaphor aside, the best way to create a compelling and complex plot is to let your characters mingle with each other. Have them help each other, get tied up in each other’s emotions, and create friendships and romantic relationships. Once you do that, your writing will be more engaging for readers and more accurately mirror real life, with all of its intricacies and tangled-up humans.
Good luck with your plot strings, and happy writing!
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan