I've been working on ToP in my spare moments, trying to figure out how to say all that I want to say. The thing about ToP is that it is layered. There is not just one arc. And that is true of many stories -- especially big, fat ones. But what I haven't learned from "how-to" articles is how to plot all of those layers.
One of the things that I am doing is a character relationship chart, which I invented (and shared here).
Some relationships stay steady through a whole book, but many of them follow an arc.
- Strangers to friends.
- Love at first sight to a lasting solid relationship.
- Friends to enemies.
- Enemies to arc-enemies.
- Enemies to friends.
And those relationships may be viewed differently by the different parties involved. Maybe Joyce was trying to make friends all along, but Brenda couldn't see that until the end. Maybe the hero thinks that the villain is his adoring fan when all along the villain has been flattering him while plotting his downfall. Maybe Angie thinks Ben is just a geeky neighbor when Ben is really an undercover bodyguard sent to protect her.
Another thing that I am doing is multiple copies of a "key scenes list." You find different variations of these lists on a number of writer help sites. GoTeenWriters has one, if you need one. But you've probably already seen them. Glimpse of normal world, inciting event,...big twist,...climax, denouement...you get the idea. These lists of important events don't tell you what is happening in a specific story -- they are an outline of things that happen in every good story...an outline that you can then fill in with your own story details.
So I made multiple copies of this key scenes list. And then I filled one out for each plot layer. And I order them in line of "most important." For example, the most important layer in ToP is Petura's own self-journey. I filled out an outline of the big twists and climaxes and all the plot points relating specifically to her learning about herself and what she wants to be. This layer is going to get the most attention in the book.
There is another layer with the young men courting the princess' hand in marriage. ToP is not a romance novel so this is farther down on my list of importance -- it won't get as much "screen time" in the book. However, Petura goes through an arc of meeting these different suitors and learning how to choose...or if to choose at all. So I filled out a list of normal world, obstacles, twists, climaxes, etc for the courtship parts.
There are questions of government and rebels and greedy countries. These follow their own arc through the book and so I filled out the key scenes as if this layer was a story of it's own.
And so on and so forth with all the arcs I wanted to feature in ToP. The only rule I made was that the Acts (Act I, Act II, Act II) must line up chronologically with each other. If an arc is big enough to impact the whole book, then it must work together on a timeline.
For example, in Petura's self-journey arc, Act I is all about her meeting the characters of her new world and trying to fulfill Calene's request. In Petura's courtship arc, Act I is all about her wrapping her brain around the idea of finding a future spouse. I will make the climax of both "Act I's" to happen around the same time, and then they will both escalate together into Act II. Eventually, all my different arcs will be so interwoven, you won't be able to tell them apart.
At least, that is the plan. And I am going to adjust this plan, filling in what needs to be filled in and inventing what needs to be invented, until I am ready to let myself loose on the page. I haven't forgotten that TCK and BC are both ahead of this one in line to be written. And I am content to wait. But, oh, won't it be exciting when I get there!!!