I love the way you wove many different story threads to create a rich story with lots of depth in The Jade Notebook. What is your process like in order to tie so many threads together? How do you balance planning specific scenes, while at the same time giving the story space to unfold as you draft?
Thank you! You know, I was on a tight deadline with the Notebooks series, which spanned from the time we adopted our baby (nine months old) to this year, when he was four. I was also writing and revising other books during that time, so I was really struggling to find time for everything. After I finished the second book in the series (The Ruby Notebook), my mom, who is my most trusted and competent critiquer (right up there with my editor), advised me to make the third and final book (The Jade Notebook) relatively short and simple, to make life easier for myself. I tried, but I just couldn't do it! I think it has to do with the fact that my characters come alive for me, even the minor ones. I feel compelled to tell their stories as well, and find a way to let their subplots connect with the main character’s one.
Early on in the manuscript, my process involves going back and forth between first-drafting (which is mostly free-writing for me) and outlining (my outlines are always changing to accommodate the discoveries I make as I free-write more of the story.) At some point, I end up with a rough first draft that is full of holes in places and bogged down with unnecessary scenes and words in other places.
My mom then comes in to save the day! She’s the kind of person who loves untangling necklaces and hair. Apparently, it’s meditative for her. Lucky for me, she has an uncanny ability to analytically untangle my subplots and figure out how they need to be woven together. She can masterfully detect missing scenes and tell me what scenes I need to add and where. So, my advice is: if you’re not analytically-minded about plot, then find someone to help you—preferably someone who loves you unconditionally like a mom, someone who will drop everything she’s doing to read your messy draft and somehow get back to you with advice the next day.
If you need to bumble through it alone, here’s my two cents: I think that integrating subplots involves an analytical part of your brain that’s different from the creative-free-writing part. I think you need to periodically step back from your organic free-writing to make lists, charts, outlines, graphs—whatever helps you tap into that analytical part of your brain. You could go through and highlight different sub-plots in different colors, or even cut and paste together pieces of each strand of sub-plot (kind of “unbraiding” them in a separate document) to get a sense of the sub-plot continuity or lack thereof. (Does that make sense?) Some authors I know fill out note cards with scenes from their story, sometimes color-coding each of the subplots, and then physically rearrange them on a bulletin board (or the floor or a big table) to figure out how the strands and layers fit together. It can be headache-inducing work… good luck!
Most of all, I encourage you to find trusted readers—critique partners or group—who will really take the time to go through and get their hands messy and analyze what’s going on in your story, plot-wise. Happy writing, everyone!
Thank you Laura for taking the time to give insightful and inspiring answers. Good luck as you continue to write. I'll be looking forward to reading your next books! Remember to continue getting more inspiration from Laura you can read her blog, check her website, or fan her Facebook page.