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So my novel look like this (I took this diagram idea from this site, but I'm not sure exactly from whom):

enter image description here

The beginning and end focuses on the mystery that the heroine is trying to solve (main plot). The middle focuses on her relationship with the other characters.

So I ended up with many random scenes that are disconnected with the main plot (they are indirectly related to it, though). Basically, the main plot is acting as a metaphor for what's happening to her and the people around her.

I presented the opening of the novel in this question (in case you want to know)

Is this a sign of bad writing? Are there many books with this type of plot structure? (By bad writing, I mean giving the reader a feeling of discontinuity and dullness).

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Interesting question. By bad writing, do you mean rambling, dull, hard to read? I've seen this kind of thing done well and also done badly. –  Neil Fein Feb 2 '13 at 17:59
    
@Neil Fein Not hard to read but the feeling of "discontinuity." And yes maybe dullness. –  Alexandro Chen Feb 2 '13 at 18:21

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

A rambling narrative can be executed very badly or very well. Maybe it's tool to give color and depth to a world, but it can simply be a sign of an unfocused book. In all cases, what's important is how the reader will react, and that can be tough to estimate. It matters not a bit if you've planned the book out well if the reader believes you've given them the equivalent of notes tossed into a paper bag: They'll close the book and move along.

Do your troublesome plot threads give the reader critical data, or details that will add to the world of the novel? If so, then these scenes are needed. (You've already established that this is the case.) Next, you'll need to make sure the reader has faith in your storytelling. Will the reader find these scenes interesting enough to continue through pages that are apparently unrelated to the story? Unrelated detail can also become interesting unrelated detail when it's tantalizing. But presenting a reader with interesting baubles repeatedly will get them used to shiny things, and again they might give up on the story.

Discontinuity, to me, means a feeling of things not adding up. And dull-as-dishwater characters will turn readers off. But readers have a memory, and they're quite capable of feeling many things at the same time. Before they get to this point, do readers also sympathize with the characters and the situations? Do they find a character lacking in interest, or do they want them to grow and improve as people?

Getting readers to care about your world will see them through the desert of dullness, but it'll be easier to propel them across the dunes if these "desolate" scenes are shorter and interspersed with more accessible material. Unless you have a very good reason to have all the difficult scenes as a unified central section of the book, consider resequencing these scenes. Perhaps some scenes containing critical color can be removed, any information from them that the reader needs embedded in earlier or later scenes. The rest of the middle-section scenes could be preserved and interspersed with action.

For an example of this done well, any of the Bas-Lag books by China Mieville will do, but Perdido Street Station is a particularly good example of the impenetrable character, performing actions whose intent and meaning are utterly opaque.

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When you ramble a lot you will be inconsistent in delivering and imagine the kind of comprehensive emotions you will create for the reader. But in all what matters is how well it may go with the plot in context. Thank you.

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Is this a sign of bad writing?

No.

You don't even have to have a 'main' plot.

See these plot summaries of Pulp Fiction for a good example - different viewers have different ideas as to which is the most important plot line.

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One main idea about scene construction is that each scene should do two things. It can move plot and change the emotional feeling of a character/characters, or provide backstory and move plot, or do any combination of one of those and another thing. But it should do at least two things. So the biggest thing to look at is what each of your scenes does.

You have a scene with the boyfriend right before the climax. Does that scene progress the emotional plot and provide backstory? Then it's, by that definition, a good scene, and probably useful to the story. If it is just a scene where the MC and the boyfriend are talking about their favorite fruit, it probably isn't so useful.

You don't want every scene in the beginning and the end to be plot and backstory or plot and relationship, and you don't want every scene in the middle to be emotional and backstory (as examples), because that will lead to a feeling of having two different stories in one, but you can generally have the outside progress the plot and inside progress emotional, or something like that.

In the end, it isn't good or bad writing to not always follow exactly what the main plot is doing. One way to avoid a feeling of discontinuity is make it clear where each scene is related to the others in space and time. It could be as simple as saying "later that day" or "at the same time" or "across town", where it gives a feeling that everything is tied together. If suddenly start a scene with the father being in another state six months later with no tie-in, it would probably be confusing. If he is buying a gift for his child at the store they went to years ago, that gives a feeling of continuity.

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Along with nodding vigorously at everything Neil said...

You can have discontinuity in the beginning, but at some point it has to be apparent to the reader how these threads are connected.

In GRRMartin's Song of Ice and Fire series, the main action takes place on the continent of Westeros. Dany Targaryen is the exiled daughter of a previous king of Westeros, and all her story takes place far to the south. But a few characters cross back and forth, and Dany's entire purpose is to come back to Westeros to reclaim the throne. So the main plotline may or may not interact with Dany's so far, but the reader knows that at some point they will.

If Plotline A is an echo of or metaphor for Plotline B, I would say that by the time we're a third of the way in, the reader should be getting some clear hint that they are connected.

There may be an audience for "impenetrable characters doing things for opaque intents," but I really prefer to be able to figure out what the hell is going on and why. Mystery is great as long as the mystery is both solvable and revealed.

One example is the movie Murder by Death. It's a parody of great detective characters, and [SPOILER] if you've never seen it:

in the end scene, the antagonist complains about books in which the murderer was only caught because the detective knew something the audience didn't, and there was no way for the reader to figure it out because the writer deliberately withheld detail.

Don't do that.

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