Two kinds of plot
Warning: Spoilers for the first season of the second series anime of Yu-Gi-Oh! (the Duelist Kingdom arc).
I’ve always found writing series much easier than writing longer, more complicated stories. As I write this, I’m currently working on three fanfiction series: the Angel!Verse (a fantasy Doctor Who AU where Time Lords are winged beings), the Volens!Verse (a BBC Sherlock AU where several of the characters are vampires), and a series called Loki and the Doctor (in which I try to explain the gaps left in Loki’s character development by the Marvel Cinematic Universe through meetings with the Doctor). These series have rather complicated plots (complicated for me, anyway) and focus on various plot lines with multiple characters.
When it comes to writing these kinds of plots in a single story, I can never get my head around what I’m writing.
I put this down to a distinction between two kinds of plots: one which is found in a series of interconnected short stories, and one which is found in a lengthy story; one which I find infinitely easier to write, and one with which I have struggled for years; one which is found in series of Doctor Who, and one which is found in series of Yu-Gi-Oh!.
The first kind of plot is found exclusively in series. It just wouldn’t work outside of one. This is when each part of the series, each episode, each story, stands alone. It has its own plot and can be read/watched without the real need to know the entire arc before you start. You can, essentially, start in the middle and work out what the main plotlines are later. There is usually some kind of time lapse between each story or each episode, sometimes of indeterminate duration. Thus, with each episode or story you can focus on a single plotpoint or character, with only minor references to the other plotlines, until you bring them all together at the end. This is the style of plot we see in Doctor Who.
NB: For an example of something which focuses on individual characters much more than overall plot points, see the British drama, Skins. There is also an American version, but I have never seen that; though I would imagine it takes the same approach to having one episode for each character.
The second kind of plot is one which is found more in novels, though I have found it in Yu-Gi-Oh! as well. It works better with longer stories with chapters rather than series of interconnected stories, because there is rarely any time lapse between the events each section of the story focuses on. Even when there is a time lapse, this has to be explained in some way. For example, between episode 1 and episode 2 of the second series anime of Yu-Gi-Oh!, there is clearly a break of several months, for it is during this time in which Pegasus is putting the Duelist Kingdom tournament together. Once the characters are on the island, however, there are no time lapses between episodes, and I sat back in awe at the feat that the writers had achieved with this, something that had eluded me ever since I had started writing.
This second kind of plot is not something with which everyone finds trouble – you only need to read a novel or watch Yu-Gi-Oh! to see that – and those who can write those kinds of plot, I tip my hat to.
As for me, I think I’ll stick to my series, and stay in awe at those who can keep several plotlines straight in their head throughout an entire story.
After all, I’ve got the fifth part of my Loki and the Doctor series to finish…