Monday, June 14, 2010

Off Stage vs. On Stage: How Much Do You Show?

Lately, in working on my current novel, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time on subplot instead of the main plot events. I need to make decisions about which parts the reader needs to experience as the story moves along and which parts can be summarized through dialogue or a descriptive paragraph.

It’s not as easy as it seems. I want to experience all of it. While that’s perfectly reasonable for the first draft, I also don’t want to lose my focus on the main storyline. Some questions I'm asking myself:

1) Is the information in the scene critical to moving ahead the plot?

2) Am I getting so far from the main story that the reader will forget what’s happening?

3) Do I need to know what’s happening here? If so, I write the scene but mark it for possible summarizing later. Maybe I need to know, but the reader doesn't.


  1. These are excellent questions to keep in mind while I write. Thanks!

  2. Great questions. I think everything has to move the plot along.

    Your second question is fascinating, and I think makes a good point. It also makes me want to ask why am I pulling so far away from my plot? I've started drafts thinking the story was one thing, only to find it was really something else. Is this tangent, instead, the real story?

  3. Andrea, thanks for sharing your perspective! It's something I haven't thought about much. My stories change from my original concept as I learn more about the characters while I write. A tangent that keeps pulling you away is definitely telling you something, and deserves some consideration. I'm going to do some more thinking!

  4. These are great questions. I'm wrestling with these right now as I'm working through my revisions. Too many subplots and I'm weeding through what's really important. At the same time, I'm writing a mystery and in order to keep it, um, mysterious I feel like the plot shouldn't be too single-minded and focused or it will be easy for the reader to predict the outcome at the end.

  5. Jenn, I admire you for tackling a mystery! While I'm writing, I sometimes stop and think, what would the reader expect or want next? Then I try to include something unexpected. It means I need to keep the reader in mind while I'm writing.

  6. I struggled with this on my YA. I had a sub plot that was almost as big as the main plot. I really had to balance them, and make sure the one enhanced the other.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  7. Angela, that seems to happen to me often! It's so hard to figure out when to rein things in and when to let them go a little. Maybe I'll have a better sense of how to get that balance once I get to revisions.


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