Plots, Subplots, and Minding My Knitting

As the release of HERO’S END draws nigh, I am anxious and excited by turns. I can’t help but wonder how it’s going to be received. As the second act of The Black Wing Chronicles trilogy, this is the book that has required the most attention to story structure, and the nuts-and-bolts of writing.

I’ve talked before about the basic formula of a good story: goal, conflict, disaster, climax, resolution. You start with your character, give him a goal, put an obstacle in his path, make him decide how bad he wants it, make the situation worse, let the character make a decision, bring the action to a head and then bring it to a logical conclusion.

It sounds simplistic, but that’s really all there is at the core of a story. When you add in an overall series arc, give your character conflicting goals, introduce two or three subplots that may or may not be at cross purposes later, and you’re setting up the last book in the series plus a companion series…well, it gets a bit more complicated.

That’s where I was with HERO’S END. I had no less than three major subplots heading in three different directions within the confines of this novel, and had to keep hold of the overarching threads woven throughout the series.

I think the pressure of that came out in Tahar’s conversation with Blade.

Tahar’s throaty chuckles cut him off. The old man moved away and gestured for Blade to follow. “Come,” he said. He handed the gnarled stick to Blade. “You can lie to yourself, but the Maker knows all. Come. Let us see if we cannot untangle the strands of your destiny before you trip and strangle yourself on them.”

fair-isle2Why is this relevant? Well, it’s because subplots, multiple plot lines in general, can be very tricky things. You don’t want all of your plot lines running in the same direction, but you want them all heading for the same place.

That was clear as mud. Let me try again.

When you have more than one plot line in a story, you have characters with different goals who deal with different conflicts. Sometimes, their goals oppose each other. Other times, their goals run parallel and complement each other. When their goals are in opposition, they can create conflict for one another. When they run parallel, they can provide a different kind of interaction – and often temporary assistance – until their paths take them off into different directions again. One way to approach these subplots and plot lines is to consider each a story in its own right. As individual stories, each has to conform to good story structure or it will fall flat.

This is where story crafting comes in.

There are wonderful little nuggets referred to as plot points that drive the story forward. The main character for each subplot has to have an inciting incident that starts the ball rolling toward its inevitable conclusion. In HERO’S END, the inciting incident for Bo and Blade was the same. The third plot thread running through the book belongs to Larianne Varo, the woman contracted to kill Blade. Her inciting incident is receiving the orders to kill Blade. That sets the whole book into motion. Her attempt on Blade’s life is the inciting incident for both Bo’s and Blade’s plot threads. However, rather than taking the next step together, Blade goes in one direction with one goal (to heal and to find a way to keep from having to give up his life as Blade Devon,) and Bo goes off in another with a different goal (to find her father) which is an over-reaching story arc goal for the series itself.

So what we have are three characters moving the story along with three different goals. But wait, there’s more!

That’s only part of Bo’s goal. That’s the series arc part of Bo’s goal. Bo’s true goal in HERO’S END is to define, once and for all, the truth of Blade’s feelings for her. If that were her only goal, it would be pretty lame and boring, and that’s against the rules in space opera. Reaching her goal is thwarted when Blade goes off on his own without her. It’s thwarted again during her investigation into the whereabouts of her father.

Like I said before, each plot thread needs to be treated like a story in its own right, with turning points, rising action, climax, and denoument.

Wait! It gets better!
There is a second villain whose actions prior to the start of the series have set the overall story arc into motion. He gets his own point of view and plot threads in HERO’S END, too. Can’t forget the villain. He never directly encounters or interacts with either Bo or Blade, but his actions impact them profoundly during the course of the book causing their own plot threads to tangle and head off into other directions.

Driving it all is the overall goal/conflict of the book, which in the case of HERO’S END is a contract on Blade’s life, and the woman chosen to kill him is an ex-lover with a score to settle. Until that plot line is resolved, the story isn’t over.


I’m a knitter, and I think having used multiple strands of yarn to knit complex patterns has been good training for interweaving these plot threads together. Now that the book is finished, I look back on the pattern the interwoven threads have created and I’m quite proud of it.

SOVRAN’S PAWN was originally drafted as a novella, which, by the brevity of the form, doesn’t lend itself to complex plotting. By some counts, SOVRAN’S PAWN was barely novel-length. That’s why it doesn’t really have much in the way of subplots. The difference with HERO’S END is that the second novel in The Black Wing Chronicles is a bridge between SOVRAN’S PAWN and BARRON’S LAST STAND, which was already complete in its first draft before SOVRAN’S PAWN was written. Bo and Blade had to cover a lot of ground between the first book and the start of the last.

As I look through the pages of HERO’S END – the many, many pages – I see the foundations for the final installment of The Black Wing Chronicles firmly laid.

I can’t wait to get started on that one…again.

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