We get a lot of rain here on Canada’s West Coast during the winter, and with a window right next to my desk, I’m often staring out at the drizzle while I write. It struck me that the trail of rain that weaves its way down the glass is as intricate and complex as a well-plotted.
I start my stories with a single idea which becomes the foundation of my plot, but other ideas come into play as I write, and I soon find myself juggling several subplots! Like rain that runs down a window pane, those subplots hardly ever make a bee-line for the finish. Instead, they meander through the book, sometimes running parallel to the main plot, and other times intersecting with it. They may briefly cross other subplots too, creating an intricate pattern as they move through the story.
When you think about it, characters are like that too, or at least they should be. Although we each have a general direction in life, our plans change as events and people affect us. We might veer off in a different direction for awhile, only to return to our original course heading, or we may turn back and start again.
In stories, characters are driven forward – they seldom reverse course and start again! But just like real life, they should be affected by the other characters and events. We’re all familiar with events that affect characters directly – murder, an argument or injury, for example. But there are other events that create an atmosphere that influences characters in a subtle way. For example, the recent U.S. election results have left some feeling confident and others uneasy, and that mood will affect the decisions and actions of many people in coming months.
In THIRST, a wind storm that begins on the first page, swirls through the first few chapters, impacting each character in turn. It’s a subtle introduction to the people in my story – how does something as simple as the storm affect them? Whether they embrace it, fear it or endure it, their reaction reveals a little of their personality.
We all know that a good storyline depends on its characters. But what’s less obvious is what happens when characters in different storylines or subplots meet up at some point. Do the characters mingle and linger when their stories cross? Does the plot swerve because of the interaction, or does it maintain its steady course, absorbing the character interaction as part of its own?
In THIRST, Alex is deeply affected by a single meeting with Dr. Eric Keenan, but she barely senses another character Olivia Taylor when their storylines intersect. If you watch the rain, you see this same action. At times two rain trails merge, only to separate again later, or they interfere with each other, forcing a completely different direction for one or both.
Since that rainy day, I’ve started thinking more about how my plots interact, how the characters affect each other, and how they’re affected by story setting and background events. It’s given me a new perspective, one that I believe will make the next Alex Graham suspense thriller even more intriguing to my readers.
Published on Motive Means Opportunity, January 16, 2017