Can you have multiple major plotlines in a single novel?

Apr 19, 2020
To clarify, I am not referring to subplots or parallel plots, but entire storylines with buildup, climax, and resolution. I'll admit I'm not the most experienced reader, but it seems to me that in a series, each individual novel will revolve around one big cohesive storyline that is resolved by the end of that novel. Would it be strange to have more than one major plotline resolved in a single book?

What really got me thinking about this was comparing the structure of anime/manga to that of western fantasy novels. I noticed that a lot of anime/manga tend to start off with really small mini-arcs(think those early on 2-3 episode arcs) that contribute to the ideas and themes of the series but don't exactly form a cohesive plotline that builds upon itself. I was essentially wondering how something like this would translate over to a western novel format. (Yes, I know light novels exist, but that's not what I mean.)


Some medals you wear on your heart not your sleeve
Mar 29, 2019
Yes. I'm fairly sure I read a Raymond Chandler short story, where the two cases never met or mixed, apart from the detective.
But why would you want to?
It might end up feeling like one of those TV movies made up of two different episodes of a show cut together.
When reading I might feel cheated if I was trying to work out the connection between tale A & B [& C...] and found out there were none.

Christine Wheelwright

Well-Known Member
Jan 3, 2022
Oh Canada!
I don't think it makes sense to do this, at least not in the way you describe it. Sometimes a personal story (maybe a character reflecting on childhood events) is alternated with a present main narrative (maybe that character, now grown up, is working on a murder case). But typically there is some relevance or connection between the two stories. A movie like Babel is also interesting because it presents three (or four?) apparently unconnected stories which turn out to actually have a very dramatic connection, revealed only in the closing stages of the movie. It is a classy piece of work.

I really don't see the point of two entirely unconnected stories though.

Wayne Mack

Well-Known Member
Sep 12, 2020
Chantilly, Virginia, US
I would categorize this as a novel containing a series of vignettes. Examples of this (arguably) would be The Magicians by Lev Grossman and the first couple Harry Potter books. I might even consider Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, as its plot line was only unified by a twist at the end. In movies, I've seen two pass plots, first establish, build, and train a team, then send the team on a mission.

The vignette type of novel can be done and can have some success, but I feel less engaged as a reader if there isn't a central driving thread. The problem is that I can skip any single part and not lose anything from the story flow.


Dec 10, 2012
x² + y² = r²:when x~∞
I think that a lot depends on what you mean by two plots.
Every story might contain several threads--these can intersect or be individualized--however the key to good writing is to tie-up all the threads at some point. so there are none hanging loose.
You should chose one main thread which is your main plot.
If you were to have two strong threads, you should still chose one main plot and the other thread--even if it doesn't intersect with the main thread--should somehow tie into the main thread and serve to move the story forward.

That much said, I don't live by these guidelines; meaning I have left untied threads because I've been writing a series; however, all of those are brief scenes that do tie into the main plot though they might contain elements that don't get used in the final resolution, because they tie in later in the next part of the series. And the scenes are always integral to moving the story forward.

This can make it difficult for editing especially when using beta readers or editors, because they might keep suggesting that you remove some of the unnecessary narrative to tighten things up. Then you have to decide to either take their advice or ignore them and hope they don't get frustrated with you.

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Apr 9, 2016
Yes. It's not always a sensible idea, but you can do it.

I think you're most likely to see it in long running series where in the middle books, major PoVs have their own plot that doesn't much touch the others.

But you can find it in books that aren't like that. Reaper Man by Pratchett has two fairly major plots that run more or less independently of each other. To a decent amount of people that's a major weakness of the book mind, but that's how it is.

You also get books like Delany's Tales of Neveryon or Lee's Night's Master, which feel like several novellas told sequentially with only the loosest interconnecting.


Well-Known Member
May 6, 2019
That concept of two simultaneous plots was a primary reason for me to quit watching Star Trek TNG. An hour show is too short to successfully do that. Not sure a novel can unless it's a thousand pages long.

I would not recommend it, myself, but YMMV.