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Single and Multiple Story Arcs in Your Novel

Single and Multiple story arcs in your novel

When it comes to how I write my books, I get more questions about my storyline crossovers than anything else. Whenever I do a book signing, there are always those who come and want to ask how they can do it.

When we talk, it usually comes down to organizing and structuring multiple storylines in a single book. Even short stories can have more than one storyline in them.

Over the years, I have been vocal about the writing process I developed and use for myself and post many pictures and explanations on my social media accounts as I write.

It's not a trade secret I don't want to share. It's a process that works for me and may not work for you. Or it may be the best experience you have ever had with organizing your story.

Greek Comedy and Tragedy masks

Typically, there are two main categories of stories. You know, the old Greek play masks, Comedy, and Tragedy. Think of it as stories that end on a high (Comedy) and stories that end on a low (tragedy).

First, there is the comedy or stories that end on a high. Within this category, there are three basic types of storylines.


Rags to riches. Who doesn't love a story where everything looks dismal with no hope, and then things turn around, and life is good!

Man in a hole. Life is going right, and boom, disaster. But problems are solved, and our hero is higher than when he began.

Finally, Cinderella. Life sucks. You have nothing, but make the most of it. Then, a light at the end of the tunnel, and things begin to look up. However, that light is a train, and you get knocked back down to nothingness. But then, when all seems lost, in comes the savior to change your life, and you are lifted higher than you could have ever imagined.


The tragedy is a mirror of comedy, reversing the same three storylines.

Riches to rags. Our protagonist is on top of the world. Nothing could be better, then, in a flash, all is lost, and a new life of failure is all that is left.

Icarus. (Opposite of man in a hole) We all remember the story of Icarus. Wanting to fly so high and though warned, flew too close to the sun, melting the wax he used to secure the feathers to his wings, which caused him to fall to his death.

Finally, Oedipus. (Opposite Cinderella) Oedipus starts well enough, hits a little hard time but recovers better off than before. Then, the big hit, and all is lost.

Story Arcs explained

Of the story types, Rags to riches, and riches to rags, are unidirectional; this means they have a beginning that progressively leads to the end.

Man in a hole and Icarus are considered bi-directional. The story goes in one direction, then turns and goes in the opposite.

Finally, Cinderella and Oedipus are tri-directional. They go in one direction, then reverse, and before you know it, switch once more.

Within a novel, you may use all of these in different ways to tell your story. Or, perhaps you may choose one overall theme for the story, as in Cinderella's case, for example.

Pandemic Dawn Series story arc example

In my Pandemic Dawn novel series, my approach is this for the series, a Cinderella story with multiple ups and downs throughout the books.

I imagine something like a stock ticker following an up and coming stock. It's low, to begin with, and over time has its ups and downs, but slowly works itself to a high.

I like having the overall feel of "there's still hope" in my novel series, no matter the tragedies that are taking place.

Now, within those stock charts, if you zoomed in, you would see all sorts of activities of ups and downs. These ups and downs are what I consider the stories within the story, and this is where I may use multiple story arcs.

Here's an example from my novel series Pandemic Dawn.

The overall series story arc is Cinderella with multiple ups and downs for the main storyline of a post-apocalyptic virus filled world needing a cure.

Within this storyline are multiple other storylines that sometimes cross over each other.

There is Taylor's storyline, which is Cinderella.

Atkin's Legacy storyline is Rags to riches.

Pete's storyline is a Man in a hole.

Miley's storyline Cinderella.

Samuel's storyline is Icarus.

I called the primary storyline virus, and it's the one I mentioned before as a Cinderella with various ups and downs.

You can write these storylines independent of each other or with crossovers.

I have multiple crossovers, which I feel adds more realism and interest to the storytelling.

Taylor crosses into Pete's, Miley's, Samuel's, and eventually Atkins' storylines since he is the main protagonist.

The trick that works for me is developing the storyline for each arc without too many details.

For instance, I lay out the colored notecards I spoke of in other blogs, from the beginning of the arc to the conclusion for each storyline I want.

I then put a title and short description of what needs to occur at that point for the story. With the colored notecards for each storyline in rows with each other, I then move different cards to other arcs if I want interaction between those storylines.

Pandemic Dawn Book III: Day of Abomination storyline cards laid out for chapters

So I organize this process by using a single color notecard for each of the storylines.

Now I can break these cards down into "chapters" of the novel.

Each chapter represents a notecard with vague details of the story that will take place at this point in the novel.

This process works great for me, and I hope it helps others in their writing. I know many authors use notecards, but I have not met anyone who uses them the way I do, and it works well.

In my latest novel, Losing Dani Strumm, I only have c few storylines. The main storyline, Dani's dreams, and then her memories. Doing this helps me when tracking the progress of the story.

As I said before, you may only have one arc, and if that's what works for the story you are trying to tell, then that's all you need. I wouldn't suggest ever doing more than you need to tell your story. Too much can ruin a good tale. Think of your novel as a dish. You work in the kitchen all day preparing to cook, fresh ingredients, good pots and pans, everything you need. You set the temperatures on the stove and oven and get ready to put it all together. Then, while it's cooking, you start putting spices and seasonings in, not just a few, but some of this and that.

You add more and more until you ruin what could have been a great dish.

Only put what you need in!

If it adds to a character's dimension, if it adds to the story, if it enhances something, go for it. However, if what you add is just "fluff", fodder, filler, or extra words to fill pages, don't do it!

That may be acceptable in news articles or commentaries, but you don't want to take away from your story.

I hope this helps!

I will be writing more about writing in other blogs, and maybe one day, I will put it all together in a single location on my website or something for people to find and use.

Happy writing!

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