Keeping Track of Plot Threads: Nodes and Interactions

Okay, so you’ve got some plot threads to mess with, and you’ve managed to assign at least one core character to each. Good start; where do we go from here?

You probably originally thought of the thread with either an event it was headed for, a circumstance it was based off of, or a cause that had to have had some effect. This is where that point comes in—now’s the part where you need to figure out what, absent interference from other threads, characters who think for themselves, or other hazards of the creative process and/or game table, this thread would be going towards. It doesn’t have to be too well-defined, but a beginning and either a middle plus direction or an end will be necessary here. Once you’ve got a vague sort of direction, start having a few concrete events that you could see happening—again, if this thread is left to its own devices.

This is where we start looking at how they converge. After all, no thread exists in a vacuum; there’s a rest of the world out there, and something that’s happening is bound to affect something else. Think of it this way: if you’ve got two different groups of people hunting the same treasure, at some point one group’s going to realize the other exists and react in some way, whether that’s fighting the other group directly, sabotaging them, working with them, pretending to work with them to get through the hazards more easily…. Plot threads are the same way. At some point, something is going to happen that affects, if not is actually on, more than one thread. I call this kind of event a node. Sometimes they’re pre-planned, actively looking at how the threads interact and choosing one thing that brings into account this one’s overall conflict with that one’s goal and happens to swing by the core of another one en route; sometimes it’s an accident, but something just happens to fit well with two plot threads at the same time. Since any given node keeps at least two threads going, having as many as possible helps to keep all of the threads twining rather than vanishing.

But if plot threads can have constructive interference with each other, they can also have destructive interference. Sometimes, putting two plot threads together leads to them canceling each other out, as the directions in which they’re expected to go are mutually exclusive or they pose a problem that nobody has any idea how to get out of when taken together. At that point, the plot snarls up and knots on itself, and if you’re unlucky takes a few more threads with it. It’s a good idea to look at plot threads regularly and start predicting where they might snarl and how to avoid that.

At this point, there’s only one thing you really can do with any given plot thread: start it moving and see what it does next. Not that that means I’m out of tips, just temporarily out of steps.

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