One of the problems of digging up an old, stalled book is that you’ve eliminated so many of your options already. You Again is a murder mystery/romance; the mystery/father hunt/ghost story is the main plot and the romance is the first subplot. The second subplot is Scylla vs her love interest, the secondary romance. But there’s also the third subplot, the plot that Rose is hatching, the bed-and-breakfast plot, which is why she’s lured everybody to the house.
So that’s three subplots. For a novel, that’s not impossible, but it’s not good, either. And of course every character in the book has his or her own reason for coming to Rosemore, Isolde is hoping for a job, Nora thinks Malcolm’s been embezzling, and so on, and they all have secrets they don’t want revealed. So the key is to tie everything to the main plot or a subplot, and then make sure all the subplots echo or interact with the main plot.
So back to the mystery main plot. That’s tied to a trust fund that will be liquidated (is that the right word?) on January 1st. (The story starts the day before Christmas and ends on New Year’s Day.) So the goal of the murderer is money.
The romance subplot intertwines with that because the first murder shifts Zelda’s outlook on life considerably; if it weren’t for the shock of that death, Zelda wouldn’t become open to new things, like sleeping with James-Spenser-Sam (dear god, I have to find a name for him), and the fact that she’s sleeping with him increases the pressure on the murderer. So I’m good there, plus the more the tension rises with the threats from the murderer (they’re snowbound), the more pain there is, and pain spikes adrenalin which fuels passion. I’ll have to look at it again to make sure the main plot needs it, that if I took the romance plot out of the book, the main plot would suffer, but I’m pretty sure it’s inextricably intertwined with the main plot.
Scylla’s romance subplot echoes Zelda’s because the same murder shifts her perspective on life, and when that shifts, so does her view of romance. Her character arc is the reverse of Zelda’s, so that’s a tie to Zelda’s plot, too. Plus she and Zelda are partners all the way, so anything one does, the other is part of, which means that when Zelda starts looking for the killer, so does Scylla. I’m good with her romance as the second subplot. Still, I need to make things she does as part of her romance plot things that are essential to the main plot, so that’s something else to keep in mind. The problem with secondary romances is that they too often feel like secondary plots, something thrown in at the last moment instead of something integral to the plot.
Then there’s Rose’s bed-and-breakfast plot. It’s her motivation for dragging everybody to Rosemore, so that helps unify things since she’ll be working in the background, complicating things for everybody. Her plot puts pressure on Zelda and Scylla because one approves of it and one doesn’t. Her plot pushes the romance because it’s in her best interest to have Zelda and James Etc. together. Her plot pushes the Scylla romance plot because Rose has an investment in Scylla’s choice. It still needs to be tied more tightly to the main plot. Must cogitate on that.
So, Murder Mystery, Romance, Second Romance, Bed and Breakfast. That’s do-able in a novel-length story although I’d be happier if there were only two subplots. The Murder Mystery is definitely the main plot, so it has to start in the first scene, not necessarily with a body, but with a lot of foreshadowing. The Romance has to start there, too, with foreshadowing, building up expectation of the first meet (which in this case is two people who haven’t seen each other in eighteen years). The Second Romance has to start fairly soon, within the first three or four scenes, I think. And the Bed and Breakfast starts in the first scene for sure.
Right now, the beginning of the first act, with the Murder Mystery in bold and the Romance Plot in italics . . .
1. Zelda vs. Scylla: Arguing about the Bed and Breakfast
2. Zelda vs Rose: Negotiating the Father Hunt/Murder Mystery, Bed and Breakfast, Previous murders (Ghost plot?)
3. Scylla vs. Quentin: Bed and Breakfast, the Second Romance Plot
4. James vs. Mike: Arguing about the Bed and Breakfast (echo scene 1)
5. Zelda vs. Quentin: the Father Hunt/Murder Mystery
6. Zelda vs. Rose: The dinner party (there’s conflict here, but it has to change because I’m taking the thing they’re struggling over out of the plot, but I’m keeping the part where she warns Zelda to stay away from James)
7. Scylla vs. Mike: The Second Romance Plot.
8. James vs. Rose: Bed and Breakfast, Romance Plot (she warns him away from Zelda)
9. Zelda vs. James: Bed and Breakfast, Romance Plot?
So the first scene does nothing but set up the minor subplot so I’m going to have to cut that. That makes Zelda vs. Rose the first scene and that does start the Murder Mystery. But then I lose the echo in James’s scene with Mike, which may also be just set-up and need to be cut. Nope, that would put James entering the story in what would then be the sixth scene and that’s too late. Hell. So 1. Zelda vs. Scylla has to include the Father Hunt, which could easily devolve into As You Know Chat, but if I can figure out a way around that, that will make it part of the Murder Mystery. All I have to do is make sure that “1. Zelda vs. Scylla” and “4. James vs. Mike” are not Set-Up Chat, and I can make that work. Although the fourth scene is still pretty late to bring James in. Better make that the third scene. Argh.
Then it’s gets trickier because almost all of the work I’ve done on this has been first act stuff. (Yes, my first act ran very, very long.) I know the first act turning point is the first murder. The second act point of no return turning point is the second murder. The third act crisis . . . I had that a third murder but I think that strains credulity. So now it’s back to the drawing board for the acts plan, and wading through all the first act stuff I’ve already written to see if there’s anything worth keeping. But by god, I have a main plot with two integrated subplots. That’s something. I really have to figure out how that Bed and Breakfast subplot works with the main Murder Mystery, though. And starting that minor B&B subplot in the first scene isn’t good, so no on that. ARGH.
Back to reading old drafts. And while I’m at it, revising the collage again. The early version is up at the top; below is a later version, but neither of them are right for where the story’s going now, so there will be tearing off of images and a lot more scissors-and-glue in my future: