Recently I read and reviewed a contemporary romance. The setting was unusual enough to be interesting without being so weird it distracted from the story and it had likable main characters, each of whom had a solid character arc, but the book left me feeling out of sorts. It wasn’t until I wrote up the review that I realized what hadn’t worked for me: the protagonist had three different goals.
- She’d just graduated from college and wanted a job using her degree.
- She was involved in organizing a charitable event to which she was deeply committed and she wanted it to reach a certain dollar figure in revenue.
- She had recently broke up with a boyfriend who took ruthless advantage of her giving nature and she was determined not to date for a while. (That’s a negative goal. If you’ve been reading Eight Ladies for any length of time, you know that’s a no-no, but it’s still a goal.)
Here’s the problem with having multiple goals: it diffuses your character’s energy across a spectrum of often unrelated activities. In my self-appointed role of armchair editor, instead of giving her three separate goals, I would give her a single goal and make the other two complications to that goal.
So instead of splitting her energy across four goals, she focuses on one but the other two keep interfering:
- She gets an interview for her dream job only to discover that the appointment conflicts with a crucial meeting of her charity event.
- So she goes to the meeting, planning to leave early but gets distracted when she’s asked to handle the catering. The cute guy sitting next to her volunteers to be on her team. After the meeting, he asks her out.
- But she’s determined not to date because that last sleazebag really did a number on her, so she suggests he work on the events team instead.
- All of which makes her late to her interview and doesn’t get the job, which reinforces her belief that dating/men just screw up your life.
- But at the next charity meeting, she learns that he guy knows the CEO of the company that just turned her down and can get her a do-over.
- And so on.
If, on the other hand, these three plot-lines don’t intersect, you wind up with.
- She goes to an interview for her dream job but doesn’t make the cut.
- She goes to a meeting for the charity event and gets assigned responsibility for the catering.
- She meets a guy who asks her out but she turns him down.
The more you can integrate your cross-threads and make events in one plot-line trigger events in the others, the more cohesive your story will be and the more tension your reader will feel because it will start to feel like she can’t set a foot down without hitting a landmine.
How do you integrate your story lines?
*Thanks to Eight Lady Jilly for suggesting the title of this post.