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I am writing a novel with two groups of characters. They will have their own adventures, and meet somewhere after the middle to take on the main villain.

Now in the book, the stories will be interspersed, as they are happening at the same time and roughly the same space.

But I was wondering, will it be easier for me to write the sub stories separately (keeping in mind the overall picture), such that the whole story of group A is written first, then group B , and then combine them at the end? This is for the first draft of course.

Are there any downsides to doing this?

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We cannot tell you, what would be easier for you. I do not know, if I get this right, but it looks like the answer is: just go writing. Start with one story. You will get ideas for the other. Jot them down or write whole chapters, just like you feel it is right. –  John Smithers Oct 5 '11 at 9:42
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Shan, could you expand your questions to include your existing and immediate concerns? Why would you prefer it one way, why the other - and why you're having trouble either deciding between them, or else choosing one and seeing how it works? –  Standback Oct 5 '11 at 11:03
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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers does this. One half covers Frodo and Sam's journey, the other half covers what happens to the rest of the group. It does make it tricky for the reader to work out what happens at the same time, but that may not be important. –  AlbeyAmakiir Oct 6 '11 at 0:00
    
After watching Peter Jackson's version, every time I pick up the book, I use two bookmarks. I read two chapters of the first half, then two chapters of the second half. The book reads better that way. –  Lauren Ipsum Oct 6 '11 at 0:01

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It's totally possible. Even in a book with only one main plot line, there's no need to write the scenes in order. This is one of the chief benefits of writing a good outline before you start writing - you know from the start what the scenes are and how they fit together, so if you want to write the funny scenes when you're in a good mood and the sad scenes when you feel like a good cry, you can!

What you will need, though, is a willingness to put the work in to integrating the scenes properly when it's time to put the novel together. You may have already worked it out at the outline stage, but if you didn't, you'll now need to pay attention to the way the scenes work with those they're being put next too. If you have ten pages of down-time with one plot, you should probably avoid matching that to another slow spot of the other story.

At the same time, you don't want the tones to totally clash with each other. (eg. don't go from a a super-sad story to a silly, irreverent scene unless you're really good and can actually pull it off). You'll also need to make sure that readers are discovering things at the best time for both story lines, and that you're maximizing the impact of the way your stories are parallel (like having one storyline discover item A at the same time the other story line is discovering the importance of item A).

Personal Experience: I write Romance, usually from both character's POV, and I sometimes write all of one character's POV and then go back and mix the other character's chapters in. This isn't quite the same as your situation, obviously, since my characters are interacting, but for what it's worth...

I find the advantage of doing it this way is that I'm able to really get inside the first character's head. It's easy to have him or her act as if s/he has no knowledge of the other character's perspective, because I barely have that knowledge myself. And I can keep the thread of emotion running, uninterrupted.

The disadvantage, or at least the thing to be aware of, is that the second character tends to get treated as secondary, even if the outline made it look like that character got equal time and attention. I have to really work to ensure that I'm not just having that character react to the first character, when I really want him/her to be living an independent life with independent goals and motivations that just happen to intersect with the first character. This might not apply if your characters don't really interact.

Good luck with it.

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If you are having a huge problem getting the stories on paper because juggling both at once is confusing, then yes. I would certainly outline them individually.

I prefer to write linearly — in the sense of writing the story pretty much in the order it will appear in the book, with a few exceptions for inspiration or to get around writer's block — so that I minimize the amount of backtracking I have to do. You would need to backtrack if you realized you forgot some bit of exposition or explanation, for example, or if you needed to put in some foreshadowing, or to shift a point of tension.

If you have two A-plots going on at the same time, you generally want both plots to have similar levels of tension. Whether you want them both to rise and fall simultaneously or for one to rise while the other is falling is up to you and your story. For me as a writer, that would be easier to see if I were writing the scenes in the order they would appear.

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The possible downside to writing the stories separately is that you may end up with two separate stories that don't inter-twine properly. The worst would be that you might write complete stories that don't inter-twine at all!

I'd say to outline them separately, then figure out (at the outline level) how you want the inter-twining to go (that is, where you will switch back and forth), then write it all out more or less linearly.

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A small caveat. Although you perceive the two initial plots to be unconnected they will be united in the task of delivering story information about the world of the story, especially as they come closer to one another. Writing sub-plot A may be easy enough but then when you write sub-plot B you may notice that you find yourself needing to "repeat" world information because it needs to exist sooner than it crops up in A, then of course you need to retroactively edit the information out of A because now it's in B. IOW it could lead to unexpected, unpleasant and unnecessary complications.

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What? Where? Am I on the wrong post? Only one paragraph? Don't you feel well, One Monkey? I better upvote this before you start enlarging it ... ;) –  John Smithers Oct 5 '11 at 19:47
    
Less complicated questions demand simpler answers. –  One Monkey Oct 6 '11 at 7:06

This is definitely possible, and in some cases maybe even preferable. An example would be a situation where each of the different groups knows nothing about one another and what the others are doing. I wrote a fantasy novel that had three separate sets of characters, and for the most part, it was written in this manner. It wasn't until about two-thirds of the way through that any of these groups started to interact. I rotated the storyline to relate the different perspectives, but I made sure that they were maintaining a consistent flow.

The key to doing something like this and making it a little easier to integrate the pieces later is to have a good timeline to track all the key events. For example, if you have two groups doing things on the same day at opposite ends of the earth, then it will be daytime for one group but nighttime for the other. Another example is if you have two groups operating on different sides of the city. In this case, they should both be seeing a full moon. The main point is to use your timeline to track significant events or details that each group should be experiencing at the same time. This will also help you to see points where they may begin to merge together.

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