Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Separate but Equal

I’m trying something new in my WIP. I usually have a plot and a subplot in my novels, but this time I’m writing two distinct plots that have nothing to do with each other except for the main characters in the series, psychic Diana Racine and her love, Lieutenant Ernie Lucier of the New Orleans Police Department.
Not two POVs, mind you; I always have multiple POVs. Each story line will tie up at the end, but they will not connect. (Though characters and situations should grow and evolve in a series, each novel should stand alone as a separate entity, and in my opinion without a cliffhanger.)

I’m not sure I can pull this off. It’s like watching a tennis match where you go back and forth between players. The difficult part is segueing from one plot to the other without jarring the reader. In a way it’s similar to time shifts or flashbacks in a novel. That can be tricky if it’s not done well because it can be confusing. I wrote one book that goes back and forth in time, Threads, but I made sure that the shifts were clear by headlining the year and city the story takes place.
There’s always a paranormal element in the Diana Racine books because she’s a psychic, and her visions take her out of her own body or place. Her visions materialize because of touch, whether it’s a person or an object, and it doesn’t always work. There’s something contrived about a psychic who’s in complete control over her otherworldly experiences. I would imagine that those with a psychic gift are at the mercy of some overpowering element, but I find stories where that element solves the crime to be a form of cheating. I’ve purposely made Diana fail at times so as not to stretch the credulity of the plot, but she does contribute to the solution, even if Lucier is the cop who brings in the bad guys.

Both plots in this new, as yet untitled novel, revolve around a murder, of course. In one, I employ a favorite trope of mine: the corruption of the super wealthy. I remember my mother, a blue-collar worker without a worldly bone in her body, saying whenever we drove through a wealthy area with lavish homes that the people who owned them had to be crooks. I used to laugh, but not so much anymore. They’ve become my villains, whether the corruption is the cause of their wealth or it’s their motivation to keep it.

The second plot involves twins and a ghost or two. New Orleans, along with Savannah, has quite a few haunted houses.
Diana visits one on request, disbelieving in ghosts, and finds there really is one. I’ve never written Diana into a story line with a ghost. She has channeled dead people, but that’s different.

So we have two, actually three, upstanding citizens who are nasty pieces of work and a twin haunted by her sister who disappeared but no one can prove is dead.

Make those two work, Polly, without giving the reader a neck ache. I double-dare you.


Polly Iyer is the author of eight novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

13 comments :

  1. My advice? Do a pencil sketch at the beginning as to how you think it will go and then again at the end to see how far you've veered of course. I always do veer off course. :)

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    1. Veering off course is never a problem for me, because I never have a course. :-) I'm at 50K words, and I was thinking about where I am in the story, and I'd never have been able to foresee what's happened. The story, as I'm writing it, dictates what comes next. Not everyone's way, but it seems to work for me.

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    2. My original vision, the one in my head, never comes out exactly the same on paper. :)

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    3. That's because the story is writing itself. You are merely a conduit. :-)

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  2. It's a challenge to bring new elements into a story, ones we've not before employed and are not sure how to make work. As experienced writers, we want our stories to be fresh and not predictable rather than formulaic because that keeps our readers waiting eagerly for our next book. You're a good writer, Polly, so it will no doubt come together, perhaps even better than you anticipate. Good discussion.

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    1. I think that's why I've always preferred to write standalones. Keeping a series fresh is hard, and I've noticed that a lot lately reading established series where I think it's time for the author to move on. Thanks, Linda.

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  3. I think the real challenge of writing dual plots is not ending up with readers who are engaged by one plot but not the other. You don’t want readers skimming chapters to get to the story they’re interested in. As a reader, this has happened to me more times than I can count.

    VR Barkowski

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    1. And that is the main problem, VR. Hopefully, I can make the plots interesting enough for the reader to be engaged in both of them. Like I said, not sure I can pull it off. (By the way, I've had the same situation with a few books myself.)

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  4. I think the secret is in how suspenseful you play out the information. You can do it!

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  5. Thanks, Maggie. I'm sure you'll let me know if I fail. I'm counting on you.

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  6. I just finished listening to a book, Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg, that has won all kinds of critical acclaim. It is a story told by several characters who have alternating chapters and different story-lines. However, those do connect throughout the story. Loosely at first - very loosely - then the threads pull tighter and tighter toward the end. I don't think I've ever read a story told the way you propose for your WIP, but there is always a first time. :-)

    The key for me as a reader is that you would have to make me care about each character so much that I want to stay with their story even though it is interrupted by the other. Kind of what VR referred to, but unlike her, if I did not connect to one of the characters, I'd probably stop reading altogether rather than skip around.

    That said, it is always good to stretch ourselves as writers, and you are good enough to pull off something so different. Good luck!

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  7. Thanks for your confidence, Maryann. It is a challenge, and I agree that we should stretch ourselves and not become predictable. I've been thinking hard about making each story hold the reader's attention while they're reading that segment without their losing interest in the alternate story. As I said, not sure I can pull it off, but readers will let me know. I've got a long way to go.

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  8. I love all of your books. All I can say is write faster!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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