Writing Tips
3 min read

How to write a novel with multiple storylines

An image of multple pathways weaving together and converging in a wood. It's meant to signify the way we weave mutliple storylines together.

Writing a novel with multiple storylines can add depth and complexity to your story. However, taking this approach can also present unique challenges.

Perhaps you’re wanting to write across two different timelines, or from the perspective of multiple point-of-view characters. Here's how to make it work effectively.

How to decide if multiple storylines are necessary for your novel

Consider whether multiple storylines will enhance your narrative. Ask yourself:

  • Do they add depth to the main plot?
  • Do they provide different perspectives?
  • Do they contribute to character development?

If the answer is yes, then multiple storylines might be necessary.

If you’re struggling to connect your different storylines, or if you’re finding that one storyline is much more engaging than the other, these may be red flags that you need to pare your storylines down. The last thing you want is a frustrated reader who has to read a POV chapter about a character they don’t care about when they really want to know what’s happening in another storyline (I’m sure you know this feeling!).

How to ensure each storyline is fully developed

Every storyline you introduce must be fully fleshed out, and satisfying to read.

  1. Character Arcs: Make sure each character’s arc has a clear beginning, middle, and end. They must change or grow by the end of the story.
  2. Conflict and Resolution: Ensure each storyline includes its own conflicts and resolutions.
  3. Detail and Depth: Give equal attention to each storyline, developing settings, characters, and subplots thoroughly — read more about how to add depth with detail.

How to structure multiple storylines to avoid confusion

Maintaining a clear structure for your storylines can help you make sure you’re hitting all the necessary beats. First Draft Pro’s chapter outline and plotline features can be really helpful here.

  1. Outline: Create a detailed outline for each storyline.
  2. Chapter Breaks: Use chapter breaks to separate and alternate between storylines.
  3. Consistency: Maintain consistency in tone and style across storylines.
  4. Timeline: Keep a timeline to track events in each storyline and ensure they align properly.

Common pitfalls to avoid when writing multiple storylines

To make sure your multiple storyline novel is working, be on the lookout for these pitfalls:

  1. Overcomplication: Don’t introduce too many storylines; it can confuse readers. Really consider if every storyline is necessary.
  2. Neglecting Storylines: Ensure no storyline is left underdeveloped.
  3. Unclear Connections: Make sure the connection between each storyline is clear.
  4. Unclear Protagonist: Make sure you’re clear on who your protagonist is. While you may have multiple POV characters, or multiple timelines, ultimately you’re telling one story. Whose story is it?

How to orient readers smoothly between different storylines

A novel with multiple points-of-view or timelines, can be as confusing for a reader to navigate as it can be for a writer to construct. You’re going to need to make sure that you’re orienting readers each time you switch storylines.

  1. Transitions: Use clear transitions when switching between storylines. This might be a new chapter, or novel part. Try not to give your reader whiplash by switching mid-scene/mid-chapter.
  2. Markers: Come up with some sort of marker that helps a reader identify that they’ve switched. Some writers label chapters with the POV character. Others might use stylistic differentiators (like language markers for different time periods).
  3. Recap: Briefly recap previous events if switching after several chapters.

How to keep readers engaged across all storylines

It’s a tough job, but if you’re writing multiple storylines, you need to make sure your readers care as much about one as they do about another.

  1. Cliffhangers: End chapters on cliffhangers to maintain suspense.
  2. Character Development: Ensure strong, relatable characters in each storyline.
  3. Pacing: Balance the pacing, so no storyline lags behind.

Examples of novels with well-executed multiple storylines

  • "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell: Seamlessly intertwines multiple narratives across different time periods.
  • "Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin: Features a large cast of characters and interwoven plots.

Using First Draft Pro to keep track of your storylines

First Draft Pro can be very helpful for mapping out which scenes support each of your storylines.

An illustration of First Draft Pro's plotline feature, showing how it can be used to manage multiple storylines.
First Draft Pro's writing app includes a plotline feature that can be really useful for managing multiple themes in a novel.