The Twisting, Turning Way

I have two events coming up post-tour! Next Saturday, May 9th, I’ll be at Byrd’s Books, 126 Greenwood Avenue, Bethel, Connecticut, at 11:00 am. And the following Sunday, May 17th, I’ll be participating in the South Carolina Book Festival at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center located
at 1101 Lincoln Street. I’ll be speaking there from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm and then signing books. Hope to see some of you at one of these events!

If you don’t already know, Stolen Magic came out on April 21st, and I just finished my tour. I met a few of you, and I’m so glad I did!

On December 27, 2014, Elisa wrote, How does one make intricate little side-plots? To add interest and mystery to a story what must one do? I have one story that I’ve written quite a bit in and I know just about everything that is gonna happen, etc., but it is kinda boring me because there is one and only one plot that plods on and on, no interesting little side-plots to add color and depth, just a very simple, straight forward story that goes neither to the left nor the right. How do I fix this? I’ve tried to add more action to the Main Plot (which is, essentially the ONLY plot) but it just adds weight and burden, not necessarily interest. I’m bored at the one-wayness of the story. Any ideas for fixing this?

I tend to have the opposite problem: I over-complicate. So maybe we can find a place in the middle.

Sometimes when stories are hurtling along a single track, the track is single because we haven’t slowed down enough for side tracks to appear. Let’s take the fairy tale “Snow White.” Not much complexity there. The plot mostly revolves around the evil queen, and Snow White herself is just a pretty doll of a character who’s acted upon by others, again mostly the queen.

If we don’t slow down, nothing is very interesting. The queen is motivated by jealousy, the hunter by pity. The dwarfs take her in because she can clean and cook. The prince is love-struck by Snow White’s seemingly lifeless beauty.

Let’s pretend I never wrote Fairest and look at the story fresh.

We can pick any of the characters for the slowing down, so let’s start with the prince and make him our MC. Why is he traveling through those woods? Is he looking for the dwarfs? For something else? Is he on the run? Does he have a sweetheart at home?

More slowing down. We go back to the moment of his departure from his parents’ castle. What sort of family does he leave? Who says goodbye to him? With what feelings does he depart?

What happens on his way to the dwarfs? Does he encounter anyone? Does he run into trouble? Is he bringing trouble with him, or behind him? Are the dwarfs and Snow White in danger because of him?

I’ve never bought it that he falls in love with a dead body, or what he thinks is a dead body. So what is it about the apparent corpse that appeals to him? There’s lots of room for complexity here.

Then, when she wakes up, what happens? Are they really instantly in love?

In the fairy tale, they invite the evil queen to their wedding. We can explore the gaps there. She has to be dealt with, because what’s to stop her from attacking Snow White again? In the fairy tale she goes to the wedding. Why? She could decline the invitation. The mirror has told her that the new queen is more beautiful than she is. Won’t she be dangerous if she shows up? If she doesn’t come, she’s out there being evil. If we slow her part down, we can introduce all these considerations and make complicated things happen based on them.

Let’s move on to another character, the hunter, who risks his life for Snow White. That’s extreme kindness. When I’m kind to someone, if it’s more than a quick thing, I become involved. I want to know what happened. Is the hunter going to just let Snow White go, or is he going to interest himself in her future? If we want to complicate our story, we may decide to answer yes and give him a bigger, slower role.

Snow White’s father doesn’t come into the fairy tale in any significant way, but we can bring him in. Does he know what his wife is up to? What’s his relationship with his daughter? Does he know she’s left the castle? What does he want? What’s going on with his kingdom and affairs of state? How’s his health? We keep asking ourselves questions and consider possible answers, looking for threads we can weave into our story.

This is fun!

And the dwarfs can add more complexity. Are they all glad Snow White is living with them? Do they all like her cooking, for example? Do they all like her? Have any of the dwarfs fallen in love with her? Do they get along with each other? What do they think of the queen? Might one of them be in league with her? What do they think of the prince when he comes along? Do they all think she should marry him?

What about Snow White herself? What does she want? What are her hopes for herself? What was her relationship with the evil queen before the mirror declared her more beautiful? What’s her relationship with her father? With the hunter? Did she know him before he took her into the forest? What does she think of the dwarfs? Does she like them all? Does she like living with them? Is she trying to figure out where else she could go? Or does she want to spend her life in their cottage? I’ve never understood why she lets the evil queen in, even the first time. So why does she do it?

We can keep in mind that our story doesn’t have to end where the fairy tale does. It can go into the future, or we can tell just a fragment of the story that we’ve expanded into a multi-faceted epic.

We can develop plenty of intricacy with just one POV, but if we want still more, we can try multiples or omniscient third person. The hunter and a dwarf, for example, can have their own POVs.

The key to subplots is our characters and their conflicting desires and circumstances. We discover these when we slow our action down, enter our characters’ hearts and minds, and get into the details.

Here are a bunch of prompts:

• Pick out five to ten–or all!–of my questions about the characters in Snow White and write a paragraph or two about what you might do with them.

• Write two more questions about each character. Explore them in a few paragraphs of notes.

• Write an argument between two dwarfs over Snow White. If you like, she can overhear it.

• Write a scene that causes the prince to leave home. Could be an argument, a quest he takes on, whatever.

• From the hunter’s POV, write the scene that follows the moment he lets Snow White go in the forest.

• Write a scene between Snow White and her father.

• Write the whole story!

Have fun, and save what your write!

  1. I love the idea of slowing down to explore the subplots in the story. For me, I worry that I'll slow down too much and start to confuse or bore my reader. Would writing the subplots sort of on the side work? Then I could see if/when they would fit in, or decide if only hints about the subplots are sufficient to spice up the plot.

  2. Hi! Sorry I haven't commented sooner, my tablet doesn't like to cooperate, so I've stolen mum's laptop to type this out on the sly. Thanks for answering my question! This was a very thought provoking post, and it will definitely help me write out a more intricate story. I love the prompts. They sound like fun, and think I can even use some of them in my Snow White story. Thank you so much for answering my question!

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