birdsedge (birdsedge) wrote in rasfc,

Meta Plots

We've been talking about sub-plots in a conversation started by heleninwales, but what about meta plots? Do they have a place in your writing? Do you think big? Do you paln the meta plot in advance?

In my 'verse the two rival mega-corporations that are in the background will begin to shake themselves apart following the events in Empire of Dust (my current WIS), ultimately causing the collapse of a centralised spacefaring civilisation and the separation of colonies into autonomous worlds, some with spacefaring capabilities, some without. In future books (if I ever get the opportunity to write them) my protags will play out their lives in the collapsing civilisation scenario. Ultimately it was their actions in Empire that sparked off the whole thing (though it was an accident waiting to happen and if they hadn't done it someone else would have - eventually).

I'm not sure I had the meta plot in mind when I started Empire, though I did have an idea that in the long term there would be some kind of expansion, collapse and reclamation of lost colonies and without ever trying to write it down I found that the events in Empire fitted perfectly into the beginning of the collapse.

Within that meta arc I could continue writing a fairly wide variety of space opera forever.
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I've worked out that all the novels set in the Five Kingdoms belong to a single arc. I'm starting with two fractions of magic, with everybody very firmly entrenched in good guy/bad guy opinions, and both of them have problems. In the first book - Valendon's Diary - he's making friends with a member of the White and starts exchanging thoughts and begins to soften the boundaries a bit. In the chronologically next book, Kinush very much makes friends with two members of the Black and even learns - gasp - a little black magic himself. In the third, Farilin enters a cross-colour apprenticeship and casually subverts Rhiaton society by including members of the Black. In the next, Techin attends meetings of the Learned Society in Rhiaton and cross-colour apprenticeships are no longer an absolutely shocking thought. There'll be a lot more upset, and greater danger as the people who are quite happy to have the colours seperate and at each other's throats will step up their intrigue, but eventually things will settle down, with the practice of magic and who can become a mage and the role of women mages and all of that morphing into a different shape. And then I intend to stop, much as I love the world.

Right now, I envision it will take about ten volumes to do this. Each story stands alone and is a perfectly good novel; but together, they form _more_.
In another universe altogether, a fantasy one this time, one of the mistakes I made early on was to continue writing a sequel before I'd sold the first novel. This was my first effort and as a result I have two unsaleable (proabably) books in my bottom drawer instead of one. It was a planned trilogy and if I ever sell it I will write the third element. I thought the second novel was a stand alone but my (then) agent didn't agree, so I basically wasted a couple of years polishing a hook that couldn't be pitched.

If you are writing a series of books set in the Five Kingdoms, you should absolutely make sure that you can market them to publishers and agents as stand-alones or the saleability of all your work will stand or fall on your first novel and the rest will be waiting in the wings.

At the moment I'm concentrating all my efforts on selling one book in the Empire of Dust metaverse before I write the others, even though the meta plot is outlined.

I also have a very different magic-pirate-adventure-quest novel up for consideration (Sea Witch and Rowankind) and the YA Tam Lin novel (The Midnight Rose) hopefully giving me triple the opportunity for a novel breakthrough in one direction or another. I'm equally happy writing fantasy, space opera or YA.
This is the world of my first novel, which never really worked as a novel, despite a rewrite, and which was written in novice omni, with one exception: a character I said that if I give him a viewpoint, he'd take over.

Fast forward some years and livejournal happened, and I said 'maybe I can hand him a livejournal.' valendon took the keyboard out of my hands, and started to write. Several days later, I had far too many posts to, err, post, and a few days after _that_ I looked up in astonishment and went 'I think I have a book here'. And wrote it, as a book, in record time (what's up is the first draft; I should go and change the entries at some point), but... there is *no* market AT ALL for diaries set in a fantasy setting without romantic elements etc.

And then I hit upon Kinush's story, and wrote that. It's a standalone, it's faster-paced and tighter than what I'd written before, I learnt to leave out long rambling bits that weren't going anywhere, and I'm happy... but there appears to be little market for traditional fantasies etc. And Farilin's story was bugging me like a mad thing. Enter a strong female protagonist (yay!) and an interesting concept (destroying the in-crowd from within), but... in the cold light of day, while it's a bit more marketable, it's still too low-concept to attract much mainstream attention. So when it hit a major snag, I decided to switch tracks.

That I should be distracted by a dragonet is entirely coincidental. This is an attack novel that just won't go away, and one of my characters is just Way Too Cute to put aside, but yeah, in principle I think you're very wise.

On the other hand, I dread to think what a mess I would have made of things if I hadn't at least sketched out the sequels. I found that my throwaway characters aquired personalities, and suddenly it was important that _this_ character would never say _that_. And there were timeline problems and geography and details about magic and an insight into a minor character's personality that completely changed how I viewed him - did not change much about the plot, just a tiny thing - but I could not have achieved coherence if I hadn't written on.

The idea of one book in stone and having to write the next is scary, too.
Originally Empire of Dust started out life as prequel to the unsold trilogy - as a way of explaining how that world came to be, but then it diverged, and diverged again, and eventually it became obvious to me that the two were not remotely connected. All of a sudden Empire made a lot more sense because I wasn't trying to bend the ending to fit in with where the trilogy started a thousand years later. It left me free to change the ending of Empire completeley and allow my characters to have a life of their own. It has also given me a potential universe to go and play in.

I still don't know how folks in my trilogy world got to be quite so paranoid about people who are different, but I'm not sure that matters as long as I draw it well from the outset. It's just the way that world IS. I'm not even sure if there's a corner of my Empireverse where my trilogy world might exist in splendid idsolation or whether Trilogy world is a completely different fantasy universe. The latter, I think.
There is a meta plot for the novels that I think of as "The Baradel Cycle". It grew over the years and the books overlap in a nicely complex way.

Eg I got a wonderful frisson of glee the first time that I realised that if the bad guy hadn't captured Conrad in one novel, Conrad would have met and recognised Mark in a different novel and despatched him straight home to our world -- thus meaning that he'd never have joined the army, never have been a Light Cavalry captain and the bad guy would probably have won the great battle and achieved his ambitions. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! Talk about shooting oneself in the foot! (The reader may possibly never notice this, but it gives me great satisfaction.)

I have done my best to ensure that those novels will stand alone, though by now I'm deeply unsure of the saleability of any of them. But I mean to finish them, just for the fun of it.

There are at least 3 more novel ideas in the Moving a Mountain world, again probably unsaleable, but there you go. They really are all independant though and so I wouldn't say they have a meta plot.

The brand new WIP has a potential sequel, though I haven't thought much about it yet. Again it would be a different story with the same characters rather than a piece of a larger story.

So yes, one series with meta plot, the others not really.
(Sigh) I really like your Moving a Mountain world and I hope they do eventually find a home. If I was a publisher I'd buy them all! And as a reader I'd pay money for them
Oh, that's genuinely cheering to know. Thank you. :)

I'd given up on sending it out, but there is one more place I could try... Perhaps I shouldn't give up on it just yet?
If there one more turn unstoned, I'd go for it!
There are always the independent publishers as well as the big guys, Immanion, maybe, or Night Shade Books.
IMHO, the problem is that - like The Dreamer's Friend - it's not a type of novel that's appears to be saleable right now. I'll do another post about that later. They're not brilliant enough to stand out anyway; which leaves them in competition with a lot of High Concept novels.

I don't think you should give up on it, but I can see why it doesn't quite fit into the market :-(
I haven't read The Dreamer's Friend, but I'd say that second-guessing what is and is not saleable is not something for a writer to do, It's our job to write the damn thing. If we try to interpret trends we're always going to be at least year behind.

Granted this is a lot easier for a writer with an established reputation and connections to agents and publishers, but when I see some of what's being published I'd cheerfully say: all bets are off.
It seems to me that (as I understand it from people's descriptions here) in an other-worlds sf novel, "meta plot" could simply be one face of world-building. Or does it have a narrower meaning? Since I tend to write about very individual-levels stories rather than major world events in my worlds, I guess I tend to have a fair number of meta plots. But to a large extent, they're there to be part of the scenery against which my characters are playing out their story.

For example, in the novel with the working title Iultig's Dreams there are meta plots involving the long-term consequences of human invaders having displaced the not-entirely-human original culture, and the more visible one of high-level kingdom politics in which my primary characters are very much mere pawns. The main plot is much more in the line of coming-of-age and romance. But the larger world-story is essential to why my primary characters even exist and to the forces that drive their own personal adventures.
Yes. I guess I'd see meta plot as world building in motion. It's a much more long-term plot running in the background throughout several novels in a sequence.
I'm afraid I don't do meta plots and I don't do sub plots I just do plots - simple stuff. I have a surprisingly tidy mind and if it isn't relevant to the job in hand, I don't think about it.
I see it as a weakness and a strength. It makes me very focused and very unlikely to write a very long book or a very successful series. I write like a snow plough carving a narrow tranche through a white landscape I only reveal what is directly in my path the rest is virgin snow and silence...
I really admire that.

I didn't get a taste of it until I did the Sea Witch book, which I wrote to a plan and did most of it (50,000 words) during NaNoWriMo last year. Both working to a deadline and writing to a plan kept me very focused and i found I really enjoyed working that way.

I'd definitely try it again next time round.
Well it definitely worked for the Sea witch book which was clean and pacey - characteristics I admire.

I've got three chapters of a book I started last year that I had intended to be a quest novel and seems to want to turn itself into a p[olitical intrigue project. I might just try doing an outline and seeing what I get from it.

It might even turn into a whodunnit novel.

I actually know whodunnit - in that the assassin is one of may main VP characters - but he doesn't actually know who employed him. I might have the assasin teaming up with the failed chief bodyguard to find out who killed the king and why (and to try and make amends for losing a perfectly good monarch). The heir is not necessarily the murderer even though he's not a good king.

I've got another novel beginning which combines a surviving term-king's son with a fantasy Robin Hood type plot. That one's got colliding worlds and interdimensional beings in it and I've got so many plot strands I think I might have two novels fighting each other to get out of the bag. Definitely a question of whichever subplot wins will take over the novel. That one is a bit more wibbly, but I really like what I've got so far on both the surviving term king's son and the (female) captain of the troop who's looking for him. (She's the S.of Nottingham character, but they're both good guys - just on opposite sides.) It's been eighten months since I've looked at it so I need to look at it again and see what I've got.
sounds like you have rather a lot to keep you busy. Thinking about it I think my writing method tends to keep plot threads down. Of books I will go back to -the Ark is part planned and is still alive in my head somewhere. The demon story is written. I have one unfinished novel that I wrote last summer which is about 26 k but if I were to use any of it I would cut out most of it and send it in another direction. I don't tend to abandon stuff that has any mileage in it. mmm probably need to think about my method.
Both these book frangments are kinda viable, I think, but the political fantasy got more of a thumbs up from the assembled writers at Milford in 2006 than the Robin Hood meets interdimensional beings one.

Ultimately I doin't intend to abandon either.


May 29 2008, 21:45:28 UTC 8 years ago Edited:  May 29 2008, 21:47:11 UTC

Rather than 'meta-plot' I would say that it's a plot that spans a number of standalone novels. At least in my case. Each novel drives it a little bit further through another story. If we were talking about a different scale, it'd be plots in a multi-strand novel. Only you have an extra dimension.

What you describe would be a meta-plot if you wrote several novels in this world and each of them changed the balance between invaders and defenders to end at a different point.
(I think this was in response to me -- I'm having a hard time visually tracking the threading-indentations.)

What you describe would be a meta-plot if you wrote several novels in this world and each of them changed the balance between invaders and defenders to end at a different point.

At the moment, the balance ends at a very different place than it starts -- although not through any specific action by the main characters. (It's more that the change in balance drives their situation rather than that their situation drives the change in balance.) If I were to write several novels in this corner of that world, there would certainly be evolution in the various meta-plots. In the story's current form, I've been trying desperately to figure out how to tie up the plot into one-book stand-alone form with the possibility (but not requirement) for a sequel. The problem is that the romance/coming-of-age plot concludes naturally at a point when the political/culture-conflict plot is about to explode. In other words, it makes a great break-point for a duology, but a lousy stand-alone. And since I don't yet have the slightest idea where the hypothetical Book Two would travel and end up, I think the better part of valor is to tie up the end of Book One much more tightly and tidily.
I definitely have a large history and overarching plot for what I'm writing now, although the story is really a love triangle tragedy set within that overarching plot. Sometimes I seem to work on the meta-plot more than the actual book, and as the meta-plot gets more complex and impacts the characters' motives more, it gets a little hard to resist infodumping in the story itself.