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When I lay out a plot consisting of interwoven threads, one of the most annoying things is to manage effectively the factual, logical consistency of the whole.

In order to be more effective and disciplined, are there techniques / suggestions ?

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1 Answer

Well, here are my own suggestions - I hope they're helpful :)

  • Keep a timeline for every character (or small group). Keep track not only of what's going on onstage, but also what's hidden from the reader - if the hero thinks his wife is dead, but actually she's studying with Tibetan monks and engineering a playful assassination attempt for every anniversary of theirs, then you want to follow her major moves and actions even if the reader doesn't know what they are yet - in some cases, even if he'll never know. Continuing the example, she probably couldn't get in five years of monk-training and spend a year establishing a fake persona in NYC within a five-year span. You'll never explain when she did what, but you've got to make sure it pretty much fits, and isn't absolutely absurd. Similarly, yhe villain can't lay a trap for the hero in Taiwan in Chapter 5 and then turn out to have been in hiding in Switzerland for the past year in Chapter 23.
  • Be sure you can view your story at different resolutions. Describe your story in two sentences; in a paragraph; in three; in a page. Yes, literally write down descriptions of these lengths. This is important because it helps you stick to your focus. If your chapter doesn't have an obvious role in your one-page outline, it might feel like something of a side-trek. If 50 pages go by without touching your two-sentence description at all, stop and consider whether you're straying from the story's core. If your "second act" isn't relatively easy to sum up into a coherent whole, it might be poorly focused, or simply lacking structure.
    • (Obviously, though, don't be a slave to outline. Maybe the outline needs to change. Or you've got a good reason a certain segment doesn't have a clear place in the outline. If you know the reason, you're probably OK; if you don't, you might want to reconsider.)
  • Know what your threads are. Write a list of your major threads, so you know what it is you're keeping track of. Defining clearly what your threads are can help you keep track of them. Some could be major ("things happening to Hero A"), and others minor ("things happening to Hero A's kid sister"); some might be faction- or location-based ("things happening in/to Hero A's favorite pub", "politics in Hero A's city council"). You need to decide which of these are threads, recurring and reappearing through the story as significant, ongoing elements, with change and action advancing them through the story.
  • Interrogate your threads. As often as you need to (say - every 5 chapters, or some length appropriate to your work's length), you can take stock of where the story is at the moment. Ask yourself where your story really is at that point in the story. Here are questions I find helpful:
    • What does the reader **know at this point in the story?
    • What do I know, that the reader doesn't, about what's already taken place?
    • What reactions do I want the reader to have at this point? What do I want him focused on and thinking about? How does the story, as written, encourage those reactions?
    • What is the reader interested in - why is he going to turn the next page? What is he excited about, looking forward to, in suspense regarding?
  • Writing programs like Scrivener et al often help organize your story flow and your work. YMMV regarding how helpful those specific organization systems are.
  • Get nit-picky friends to read your work, or at least your outline. That'll catch your most egregious errors, and be particularly tailored to your story's specific challenges and weak points.
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Great answer. I'd upvote this 10 times if I could. –  JSBձոգչ Apr 4 '11 at 18:36
    
Awww... thanks :) You could always try clicking the upvote button really, really hard. –  Standback Apr 4 '11 at 18:45
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