Tiffany Yates Martin, a frequent contributor to Jane Friedman's blog, recently offered a video class on crafting multiple storylines.
One of the techniques she highlighted was creating a “plot X-Ray.”
The idea is based on a technique used by the creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. They advocate that every plot element should be linked by “Therefore” or “But.”
My Plot X-Ray of Sky God’s Warrior:
Here are the opening scenes in his portion of the story:
- AIEETOS is working up his courage to dance with Kleo at a friend’s wedding, BUT Drakon arrives and blackmails him to conquer Kolkhis and enslave its people (or Kleo will die).
- THEREFORE Aieetos meets with his soldiers Nikon and Philos, BUT they refuse to help.
- THEREFORE he sells his things and prepares to leave Miletus, BUT Kleo arrives and insists they plot together to destroy Drakon.
- BECAUSE the ship stops in Tripoli (the site of Aieetos’s last battle victory), the Colonist christens Aieetos “Heliosides,” BUT this pisses off Drakon’s man Damazo.
- BECAUSE a storm hits the ship, Aieetos and his men help the sailors; THEREFORE they arrive safely in Fasis, BUT it’s a swampy wasteland
Braiding: Another critical technique
Braiding different story elements helps create narrative cohesion, particularly in multiple point-of-view stories like Sky God’s Warrior.
In the excerpt above, the reader gets the Greek perspective on Kolkhis (a desolate marshland), to complement that of the native Kolkhans.
The first chapter, in Ayda’s perspective, mentions the Greeks’ insatiable appetite for slaves (the reason Aieetos is sent to enslave the Kolkhans).
Becky Chambers uses ten point-of-view (POV) characters in her novel about a scrappy spaceship crew, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, yet they remain distinct in the reader’s mind and the story experience is cohesive.
I studied the novel to see how she did it:
Two humans, Rosemary and Ashby, carry most of the story. Their POV sections make up two-thirds of the book. This anchors us to two relatable characters.
The computer tech Jenks, Sissix (a reptilian alien), and the mechanic Kizzy are the next most frequent point-of-view characters.
The other four members of the ship get at least one POV scene, including a sentient AI, an irascible algaeist (Corbin), a chef/medic, and the Navigator. An antagonistic alien also has some critical POV scenes in a later chapter.
For example, once ROSEMARY comes aboard, she meets the AI Lovey, and is given a tour by the scientist Corbin (who mentions Ashby and Jenks). Rosemary and Corbin run into the two techs (Jenks and Kizzy), then Rosemary meets the reptilian alien Sissix, who escorts her to her quarters.
This blending of character interaction (Rosemary and Corbin) and referencing characters in conversation (Ashby and Jenks) continues throughout the story, expertly braiding the characters together.
- Rosemary is a newbie from a privileged background on Mars.
- Ashby is the ship's captain; he grew up on a pacifist generation ship (working-class).
- Sissix is a reptilian alien who loves group sex.
- Jenks is a tattooed dwarf in love with the AI Lovey.
- Kizzy is LOUD in mannerism and dress.
- The algaeist Corbin is more interested in algae than people.
- The chef/medic is a six-limbed alien who “thinks" by making sound.
- The Navigator is a symbiont dying from the virus that helps them navigate subspace.
- The tenth POV character is a hostile alien who eavesdrops on a conversation among the crew, precipitating the book’s climax.