Jeanne: Telling Parallel Stories

Like Jilly, I have been spending time judging contest entries lately. Unlike Jilly, some of rails-3309912_640mine have been pretty good. One, in particular, interested me because the story paralleled the romances of three different couples, which is what I’m trying to do with my third demon book, The Demon Wore Stilettos.

I was especially interested because every time I tell other authors what I’m working on, they say, “That’s way too complicated. You need to get rid of some of that.”

And it may come to that, but I really want to keep all three stories, so I was happy to see someone else had tried the same thing with, I thought, some success. Her stories were all set in the same small town and used the marriage-of-convenience trope for all three.

Mine are all set in Minneapolis-St. Paul and all revolve around the second-chance-at-love trope.

Where I thought the contest entry could have been stronger was in cohesion. The stories run along side-by-side like train tracks, never crossing, never even approaching each other. In mine, the three couples are, respectively, demons, humans and angels. All three couples have had past romantic encounters and all are now, for various reasons, no longer in those relationships.

What makes my story a little tighter, I think, is that the reason each couple has been thrown back together is in pursuit of a common goal,. As the story opens, there are thirty days left until the contract that my heroine signed with Satan comes due and she heads off to spend the rest of eternity in Hell. Although the demons want a very different outcome than the humans and their guardian angels, all three couples are focused on the endpoint of this contract.

Despite the very reasonable feedback I’ve been getting from my author friends, I persist in thinking that, with parallel tropes, a common setting and an intertwined goal, I can make this story of three romances hang together.

If you love the focus and simplicity of category romance, this story probably won’t be for you. But if you like twists and turns and an unpredictable outcome, then maybe, just maybe, if I manage to pull this off, it will be.

So what’s your particular poison? Do you like simple, focused, deeply intimate stories? Or do you prefer stories that stretch the boundaries?

7 thoughts on “Jeanne: Telling Parallel Stories

  1. As you know, I’m not the biggest fan of the three-couples stories, because that structure splits up the story real estate. I don’t even really like Jenny C’s co-written three-heroine books (The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, Dogs and Goddesses). Three intertwined one-hundred-page stories often takes the book wide and panoramic rather than spending the whole three hundred pages with a narrower, deeper focus on one H&H.

    Fortunately there are Many Roads to Oz, and many readers who love the three character or three couple structure. Your stories are usually quite complex anyway, with lots of community and subplots, so I suspect it may not be that much of a stretch. I bet it will suit your voice. And as you said in your post, you’re really good at tying your subplots tightly together, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you get the best of both worlds. I’m looking forward to finding out 😉

  2. I’m with Jilly on this one—I find for myself that having multiple “major characters” dilutes my interest in each. No sooner do you invest in one, than another pops up and you have to focus on that one. I love Jenny’s books, too, but, like Jilly, I find the co-written, three-character books less compelling than the others.

    However, that means nothing! You do you. There’s always a reader out there, that’s what I say.

  3. I think it’s very, very tricky, but when it works, it’s my favorite kind of story. My favorites? A Civil Campaign by Bujold, and Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie.

    Almost every musical has two couples: the main one, and then the minor one. (I’m botching the terminology today; there’s a technical term for that.)

    When it works best, the couples have mirroring themes, and explore the same sort of moral ground the writer wants to cover, but from different angles. It covers the “what if” right there in the book.

    Especially if the readers get a chance to see your characters in book one and two, this is a great chance to build on the world you’ve already shown us. I think it was Jo Walton who called it a spearhead technique. You don’t have to show so much — just enough to keep the readers who come to this as a standalone engaged. The readers who have been with you from the beginning will feel the whole spear, and not just the tip.

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