How Many Story Lines Can You Handle?

When you read books like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, you notice that there are actually many different stories going on at once.  The book I’m reading now, The Neutronium Alchemist by Peter F. Hamilton, also has many different story lines going through it. But somehow they all connect in the end.

Do you enjoy reading a complex story with many different story threads? Or do these stories confuse you? How many is too many?

How about writing? If you write books like this, how do you keep the story lines straight? How many can you do?

And finally, can you recommend any books that you think does this very well?

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12 thoughts on “How Many Story Lines Can You Handle?”

  1. I never like several storylines with many POV’s at once. I’m ok with it in the “Lord of the Rings” I think ONLY because there are solely two of them, and they’re written fairly well. But when the number of the varied storylines goes up to five or even seven, that just reads as disorganized, and by that point it’s kind of like the multi-sequel issue: feels like the author just lost coherency. Not good, no precious. So I personally almost never do even two plotlines.

    1. The book I’m reading right now has got to have seven or eight storylines with omniscient POV. He jumps from character to character all within one scene. Seems to work for him, though.

  2. I love multiple storylines. A single-storyline novel would bore me. Even thrillers, which tend to be very tightly focused, still usually have chapters that follow the antagonist in order to show what the main character is up against.

    As for how to keep the lines straight when writing… I don’t know. We just do it.

    My clone’s latest novel has two major story lines, with one of those further split into multiple sub-threads that cross repeatedly. (Maybe he’d describe it differently, and maybe I’m not even using the same definition of “storyline” that some readers or authors use, but this is how I see it right now.) All the lines come together in the last few chapters, though, and it’s clear throughout the book that they’re connected.

    1. I find it fascinating to see how different storylines come together. Some books I’ve read started out looking like they are completely different stories, but they eventually meet up or cross.

  3. When it comes to reading I don’t mind multiple storylines. Sometimes I’ll forget what was happening with a character, but it always comes back to me. The ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series is a great example because they’re so long that I’ve been known to put them aside for months at a time, but I’ll still be able to pick up and remember (mostly) what was going on when I stopped.

    Writing is another story. When it comes to my own characters and world I find it much more difficult to keep track of everything if I throw too much stuff in. I’ve actually taken to keeping random notes on my phone to remind me of what I’m supposed to be doing so I don’t muck it all up. Alternatively though, I’ve been known to write multiple (say, four at a time) completely separate novels at once, and that I seem to be able to handle just fine.

    1. Four novels at once? I read two at once, but writing two seems a bit of a challenge. However, I keep thinking of story ideas for three different books.

      1. It’s more of a problem than anything, really. lol See, I find it extremely difficult to stick with the story I’ve been working on when I’ve got an excellent idea for something else. Thus I wind up writing multiple stories at once. But it’s definitely not a good thing, since it makes everything take longer!

  4. According to my book 3 outline, I had three major threads and three minor. I did the rough draft all in one go, putting in chapters as they felt necessary, then when I went back to do the redraft I unbraided the three main threads and rewrote them each separately so they were internally consistent. Then I went through the book one more time to be sure they sat well in relation to each other. My fourth book will probably be a similar process, though have fewer minor threads and two major threads that combine. It’s a lot of work, but hopefully it turned out well.

      1. I did the majority of my rewrites when I went through the individual threads, yeah. Found a lot of places where I’d duplicated information because I forgot I’d already explained something due to trying to write three threads at once.

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