The concept of “plot” can be hard enough to grasp. Add to that any number of subplots, and you may feel as if the cat got into the yarn basket. How do you artfully weave all these threads into a balanced whole?
It may help to visualize your novel as a celtic knot.
Sort Your Threads
List all your characters. (Except the really minor ones who are only around to take the dinner order, or something.) Under each character’s name, list all of his or her goals.
For instance, your hero may be trying to stop the villain from taking over the world. But he may also be trying to win the heroine. And he may be trying to accomplish a couple of other odds and ends, like finding his long-lost brother or avenging the death of his father.
And that’s just the hero. What’s going on in your heroine’s life? She probably shares the goal of stopping the villain. Plus she’s trying to figure out her relationship with the hero. (So far, those plot threads are the same as the hero’s; it’s the same thread.) On top of that, she may also be trying to reclaim a lost family heirloom.
What about your villain? In addition to taking over the world, is he also trying to save his daughter from an incurable disease? (Doesn’t hurt to humanize your bad guys.)
You now have a list of all the goals of all your characters. Each goal represents one plot thread in the story. You now have all your strands nicely sorted. Don’t let your cat get into the yarn basket again.
Main Plots and Subplots
At this point, it may be helpful to picture your novel not as a Celtic knot with equally-sized strands, but a Celtic knot with one large strand, possibly in a contrasting color, with other little strands decorating it. The strand that stands out is your main plot.
But you’ll notice that the decorative strands pop up to the surface now and again. In your book, this would be the chapter or scene in which your hero looks for his lost brother, the heroine finds a clue to the missing family heirloom, or the villain seeks a cure for his daughter.
Many Parts Make One Whole
You’ll notice that all of the strands, whatever their size or color, weave into a single design. Every individual part affects the whole inextricably, and if you removed one, the web would be incomplete.
That is the same feeling you should get from your novel – all parts weaving into a single whole. All of your threads should be related to each other, and directly affect each other at some point or another. Perhaps the missing brother knows how to find the lost family heirloom – which contains the secret to the cure of the villain’s daughter.
You also need to make sure that the balance is correct, with the main plot actually receiving the most “stage time.” Try outlining your book on note cards and highlighting each story thread with a different color. Lay them in chronological order. Is your main plot also the main color in your collage? Do the other colors pop up at fairly regular intervals?
If visualizing the grand picture of your novel is hard for you, visualizing it as a Celtic knot can help bring it all together.