Fiction Archeology 2: Plot and Subplot in You Again

You Again Collage 1

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:

You Again Collage 2

19 thoughts on “Fiction Archeology 2: Plot and Subplot in You Again

  1. I love the collages. I think that’s such a brilliant idea. I’d love to do something like that for the book I’m struggling with. Where do you find your images for inspiration? Because so many of those are wickedly cool.

    1. A lot of them come from Google, but I also keep a box of things I’ve ripped out of magazines. Also since scrapbooking because a fad, craft stores are full of great stuff.

  2. That is a wonderful collage. Who is the hero in it? All the men I saw looked as though they could be there for the second romance or the father or just some guy in general. Even enlarged I could not get a fix on the man who was going to be important to the plot.

    1. Yeah, that “Who is the hero” is a big problem in the story, too.
      Did you notice that in the first collage there wasn’t even a freaking heroine? My protagonist was missing. Actually, they’re both in there, they’re just so small you can find them. At least I put the heroine in front and center in the second pass.

  3. I’m really trying to figure out the collage thing, but I too am stuck on finding images.
    I have a sort of Questionable question: you’ve talked before about collecting snow globes, pottery, etc., while you’re writing various books. When do you start picking things up, and would you say it’s a supplement to the collage, or helpful in a totally different way?

    1. Deb Blake asked this as Questionable, and I’ve been working on that one, but I think I’m going to end up breaking it into parts because “visuals for brainstorming” is a BIG topic.

      I think the snow globes and Art Deco china and all of the other things I collect while I’m writing a story are my version of Bob’s Walking the Terrain. He used to make me actually go to all the places we’d set scenes in our books, and I’d bitch and moan but it was invaluable. I think having the things that are in the book do the same thing for me. They make the book real. I’m looking at the same things Min looks at, that Nell looks at. It’s the same with the soundtracks; for the space of the book, I listen to the same music the protagonist listens to.

      The collages are different because they give me the big picture of the book. I see books as a series of details, Bob always saw the big picture. He couldn’t keep track of the details so he made spreadsheets as his crutch. I can’t see the big picture of the book, the story as a whole, so I make collages.

      I’ll do a whole Questionable on Visuals; it’s almost done now (it’s just LONG).

      1. I did that for a another book I’m poking around at (paranormal). I needed a lantern and I actually went out and bought one. Every time I look at it I think of the book. Looking at it now. Hm. It needs dusting. LOL.

        1. I gave away most of the snow globes from Bet Me, and a lot of the china from Fast Women, but I’ve still got a lot. Thank god, Pam Regis took most of the collages when I moved, or I’d still be tripping over those.

  4. You’ve probably already thought of this, but if you’ve got too much Stuff for one book, what about making it either two or three? Perhaps Zelda’s romance subplot in book 1 and Scylla’s romance subplot in book 2? That would kind of work with an over-sized Act 1, if you could separate out some threads, so it’s actually TWO Act 1s.

    I’m sure you know that series are extremely popular in the mystery genre, and breaking it up a bit would also fit in with your study of episodes versus entire-season, in the way tv shows are structured. So, for instance, the B&B plot would be the season/series-long plot, with baby steps in books 1 and 2, and resolved in book 3.

    Just throwing it out there, in case you were so focused on “just one book” that you didn’t see a potential for a duo or trio, because “series” was the first thing I thought of, especially given how much material/worldbuilding you already have.

    Yeah, I like making more work for other people.

    1. I think there’s a limit to how many bodies I can pile up in one house in Ohio. There were three deaths in the past and either two or three in the present, I don’t think writing Scylla into a sequel with more would be believable. It’s southern Ohio not South Chicago.

      Also, I’m not a fan of that kind of series, the kind that picks up a secondary character to tell the next story. There’s a kind of processed cheese to that kind of series that leaves me cold. I’m good with completely different books that have minor characters repeating from other books, but I really don’t like stories that are that kind of daisy chain, in part because it always leaves a part of a story unfinished to be picked up in later books. I know I’m in the minority on that, though.

  5. This visual brainstorming is new to me and fascinating. Love the collage and look forward to hearing more about it.

    It might just be me but I usually don’t care about secondary romances – I find them distracting. I feel bad about that now after seeing how much effort goes into doing it. 🙂 I do enjoy authenticity when it comes to a sense of place, though.

    1. I tend to leave my secondary romances unresolved because they feel too tidy, but I think I’d set up Scylla as such a foil that I went with hers as a contrast to Zelda’s. They’re going back to a house they stayed in one summer when they were fifteen, and there were two boys there that they interacted with (for lack of a better word), who will be at the house now, eighteen years later. So that gives me two relationship plots to play off each other, neither turning out as the people involved assume, taking opposite courses. I don’t remember planning it that way; I think it’s just the way the two stories went, but now with some distance, I can see the cross in the arcs and use it.

      If I ever get through all of these different versions.

    1. Already did that earlier. The turning points have to escalate, so it has to go bad, worse, worst, so an attempt is an anticlimax at that point. But you’re making me think about this now, and I think I have to move the second murder to the third turning point/crisis because another murder won’t escalate and I really don’t want an asteroid hitting the house. Hmmmm.

      1. If the house itself is a source of contention, someone might get fed up and try to burn it down… especially if it contains evidence or witnesses about all those murders. It’s still just an attempt, but this time there are multiple victims and lots of property damage. (Plus, you’ve fought this book for so long, setting it metaphorically on fire could be cathartic.)

        Or, yes, move one of the murders to the third act. It does sound like your first act has enough stuff that you could unspool it across the whole arc if you can figure out how to get it propped up on the turning point poles.

        1. It’s not the house. Bob thought it was the house. He was wrong. (Screams from down south being heard even as I type this.)

  6. After reading James-Spencer-Sam, I called him Jase in my head. Which is likely not helpful at all.

    I love your collages and find it so helpful to approach stories in the visual way, too. Thank you for talking about them (originally, and again now).


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