An idea about multiple story lines and their presentation.


Well-Known Member
Jul 26, 2021
So a few months ago, I wound up getting a rather massive flash of inspiration for a brand new story, characters and setting, and decided to write down all the ideas before I lost them by working on my actual work in progress, which is a totally different and unrelated story.

I started drafting up character names and bios and did some world building for the setting and history and even wrote a test chapter to see what kind of feet this tale had. And then once I felt I had found my characters way I started drafting outlines for each of them.

Basically each of the main characters, are going to know nothing of each other, they have no connection to each other beyond they live in the same land but all have different roles. One is a farmer, one is an ex smuggler and prize fighter (amongst many other former occupations) one a bandit while another was her latest would be victim before they both became victims of some even worse bandits, while another is a recently escaped slave from the fighting pits.

Each of them is saved from some unexpected Orcs attacks (I might makeup a new creature instead but for now they'll do as a stand in) by magic users who were trapped in another dimension (and I do want to clarify I'm using dimension to refer to being out of phase with reality like a ghost might be, rather then meaning an alternate reality or timeline.) the same dimension that the attackers escaped from. They are all targeted because they are latent magic users, and having never used or known about their powers before, most of them end up using their powers from sheer terror at the attackers, all of whom are surprised to see just how powerful they are.

Now each of these attacks take place in different places, none of these characters are anywhere near each other, apart from the bandit and her victim, but once the attacks are thwarted they are all recruited by the magic users to go to a place to learn about their own magic. So they all have to go off on their journeys with the magic users that found them to go and train properly at a school. Each of them all getting a mentor from one of their rescuers who tries to teach them the basics on the way, with mixed results.

And here's where I started wondering how to present their adventures.

The way I see it there would be two main ways to chronicle this. First of all in all cases, the first chapter or two would set things up, show the characters going about their lives just before the attacks, during and after and making their decisions to go to the school. And I think most people would from chapter 3 onward either dedicated a chapter to each character or keep flicking between the characters within each chapter.

But I have a third idea. I've basically written each characters journey down in their own overviews, and it occurred to me, what if I treat each of these as a full story in of itself and refer to them as separate "books", each one roughly two or three chapters in length all about that character before coming to the final "book" where they are all united at the gates of the school and work together to deal with whatever issue they have to deal with there?

So in others words it would be a bit like how Tolkien separated each volume of Lord of the Rings into two books, all the while actually being just one book really, or volume. So "Book 1" would be the first two chapters of setup, "book 2" would follow the farmer, "Book 3" the smuggler and so on until we get to the final "book" as they all unite.

Does this sound like a wise idea to follow, or would it be better to go the more conventional route of splitting their own stories up between chapters and paragraphs?
I had a related question (POV MC introduced 20-25% of the way in?) and the answers there were illuminating.

Now, two notes from my (unpublished) experience.
  1. When I first had my notes for my story I realized that I had a collection of vignettes from multiple POVs. As I started to write it up I realized those POVs were diluting my story and I reorganized to follow two people (well, two and a half)
  2. Initially had the second POV come in somewhat late in the story and wondered if this was ok (that was the question I linked to). The answer was, unsurprisingly, "It depends." but I discovered that interleaving the POV more frequently led to a more enjoyable story.
I would echo what @msstice said about diluting the story with too many POVs. It can be done, and there are successful examples out there, but I would still be cautious.

The most problematic thing with your outline is that it feels like a collection of books all set in one world. Left as a set of independent stories, that could work very well, but to then bring so many of them together sounds a bit awkward. One of the themes that pops up regularly in how-to-write discussions is being disciplined about your characters/POVs, and choosing them to tell the story. Your world design sounds like something suited to a series of self-contained stories with some sort of book-spanning arc, but then you risk a sense of repetitive stories as each character goes through their trauma and sets off to the school.

For my urban fantasies I used 1st POV which is naturally limiting, and for Streamrider I did a sort of close 3rd with two POV characters. Many years ago I wrote a multi-POV fantasy and that hit the dilution problem, as well as the narrative becoming rambling and unwieldy. Somewhere between that sprawling mess and how I write now, my inherently undisciplined make-it-up-as-I-go pantser brain has learned to get on with telling a story and not go off chasing down too many fun characters*.

My current WIP uses four 1st POV narratives, which seems to be working. My note of caution is that it's like driving a car with a tyre about to blow - it all seems fine until it's not. However, those four characters do interact from the start (and I get to have fun relating the same scene from different view points) and I have a fundamental twist in there that three of them once shared a head (it's SF and a bit nuts) so carry a strange relationship. There are other characters who could easily have been main characters but the reader only get to see them through my four POVs.

To me, four POVs seems to be bordering on too many and well out into the realm of totally undisciplined. I only added the fourth one because I couldn't see a good way of telling a chunk of the story with the other three. Even so, every so often I have the nagging doubts that maybe it's too many (and yes, today, reading this thread, is one of those nagging doubts days) but I still can't see a good way to get rid of number four. (And now that the Biskitetta likes number four, in an "isn't she absolutely awful" way, I think she's there to say.)

OK, here endeth today's ramble.

First off, it sounds like you are more of a planner than a pantser, so much of my writing baggage is probably no help to you. :giggle:

Secondly, just because I get nervous when my POV count hits three doesn't mean you don't have the sort of mind to handle it.

Thirdly, try it and see. You have multiple characters to work with, so write a three (or four?) of the narratives and see how they come together. If you get 20k in and the structure needs a re-think, you can easily change it around**.

Good luck. (y)

* That's my operational BS and I'm sticking with it.
** OK, that can be a nightmare to do, but it's a learning experience like falling off a bike or dropping a brick on your toe.
Sounds like an interesting premise, having multiple Harry Potters running around. I would assume that the antagonist was not overly powerful at the time that he or she attacked, as all of the characters survived sans training. I would avoid having a chapter (or multiple chapters) of set up for the various characters. For me, as a reader, I would be unlikely to slog through the opening to get to the real action. I would consider one of two approaches.

One, have the first chapter cover all of the attacks. Have each attack be a separate section and go through them one after the other. Perhaps the attacker learns something each time and each following attack becomes more sophisticated. Maybe have the final attack result in the attacker actually killing his or her victim. My concern would be that the attack scenes would quickly become repetitive and the reader would lose interest. It is really difficult to write multiple attacks scenes and have them be different.

Two, skip the attack scenes and start with the characters arriving at school. Treat the attacks as writer backstory that may not ever be revealed to the reader and serves to help ensure that each character acts in a logical and consistent manner.

You have a better picture of how the story will unfold than I can guess at from the overview, so you will need to pick the best way to tell the story. If you have a strong feeling that one of you proposed approaches would work, certainly go with it. The opening can certainly be lengthened or shortened during an editing pass. It may be best to simply writing the opening quickly (once you complete your current in progress tale), rather than over analyzing the alternatives.
Just to clarify regarding the idea about the forth "book" in the story, this is where they would all meet up for the first time, either just outside the school itself, or some would meet later on in the day inside it. Or in one or two cases skiving out of class in the pub as a few of them are in their twenties and don't feel like going back to school.
If you introduce each character too much or even moderately, say five to six pages per character, you run the risk that the real story will never start and the reader will get tired of reading basically out of disorientation. It is much easier, and the reader does not get lost, if you choose one of those characters as an MC and through a third-person or omniscient narrator explain that more or less they did not know each other but were destined to do so, that so-and-so was in city A, so-and-so B was in city B and so on but no more than one paragraph or at most two per character. Because do not forget that you must also tell what the world is like where the story takes place.

Or think the other way around: suppose that this is actually a comic, which goes a long way to be more clear about showing, what is seen and said, than telling. Well, when you write a script for a comic, you already know that a book of that nature is between 48 and 64 pages at most. Now, just think that you are explaining and you will only realize that you have easily drawn 30 pages (and one takes about a day per page) but the true story still does not appear.

Or to clarify it further. For example, my saga corresponds to a river novel; but the first book is carried out by an MC a and the second book by a totally different MC b. Even MC b also appears in the first book, but its importance is minimal. :ninja:
It sounds like you need to start the story and each chapter from an omniscient narrator (the whole "good" side of the battle) POV then narrow into a specific character. The protag becomes the whole group rather than the individual although individuals should still have character arcs. This isn't that uncommon. Examples include Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell, The Lord of the Rings, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and The Stand (IIRC). Even the Foundation series to some extent although that plays around with the transitions from POV a bit more, mainting an omniscient and limited third throughout.