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Story Folding


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There are plenty of times when I like to just throw in a few extras with my stories when I'm writing. Sometimes, it's just for a little nod and a wink to the readers and fans of the many stories that I've written over the years. And other times, I do it to poke fun at myself. Hehehe! Because I think it's important to have a sense of humor when it comes to even my best efforts to be error-free, and to giggle at my biggest mistakes and failures. Either way, it makes for a good time, you know? It's fun!

However...there's something else that I really love to do that can be fun as well.

There is a process that I like to refer to as 'story folding' when it comes to having my own storylines connect or criss-cross into one or another at certain points in time. After years of having all of these characters coexist in what's, pretty much, the same space...I figure that they're going to run into each other every once in a while, or at least have a few locations or situations in common. Right? I mean, for Stephen King...his place is in Maine. For M. Night Shyamalan...it's Philadelphia. For me? It's Chicago. Almost all of my stories take place there, and even a few of the places that I just made up out of the blue, exist in more than two or three of my fictional stories at some point. It's sort of like 'world building', I suppose...but for more than one project.

So...story folding! What is it, and how can you get some joy out of it whenever you get the opportunity?

One of the things that I always do, mentally, is contemplate the world that exists outside of my own personal life 'story'. Not just when I'm writing online, but in the real world. Like...just imagine...how many branches spread out in every person, every news article, every scandal, that you've ever read or seen on TV. Take a second and think about it. Think about how many buildings and office workers saw an airplane pass by their windows before they hit the Twin Towers on 9/11. Think about the fact that Jeffrey Dahmer had neighbors, co-workers, friends, family. Think about the kids that teased a young Stevie Wonder in school, or that record label that turned down Lady Gaga, or the publishers that rejected Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein" novel. I know that it's not the main story, or the most interesting...but that doesn't mean that those side avenues don't all have stories of their very own. Story folding is the art of realizing that there's a bigger world at large, gathering all of those multiple stories and points of view, and having them 'touch' one another every once in a while. (Hehehe, that sounded sexy!) But what happens in one story might have a minor, or even a major, effect on another story. It's sort of a six degrees of separation type of thing. The first time I ever did this in my stories was years ago with the miniseries, "Will Power", where the two main characters were passing a couple of other cute boys in the high school hallway, and heard them whistling the Tootsie Roll theme to themselves with a smile. (A call back to the original "New Kid In School" series.)

It was brief, and it was simply meant to be a little Easter Egg for fans of the site's number one story at the time, but it gave the readers the idea that these events were all happening in the same place, at the same time. Even if the other characters didn't know it. Also, the readers have knowledge of what's going on there that the main characters don't. So that's a bonus.

Since then, I've folded over a lot of other stories in a variety of ways, where...if you read them all...you'll be able to see where they all connect, and get a bit of an omnipotent view of all of the stories from above. The idea is to create a larger narrative beyond the current story that you're writing. 'Plot' happens within the story...but 'Story' always goes beyond the plot. Keep that in mind at all times. Consider it a challenge to use on occasion for practice. Something to keep your instincts sharp. It allows you to look at your project from many different angles, and cultivate a three-dimensional view of your stories without even thinking about it. Practice how to show your other characters reacting to what's going on in the main storyline and you'll be able to find ways to make your stories a bit more nuanced and complex over time. It simply teaches you how to think differently about the situations that you create to keep your story interesting. I find it hard to describe here in words, but you'll know it when you feel it.

It doesn't seem like it would make much of a difference, but it really did for me. I think it helped me to grow a lot since I first started writing online.

This is, yet another, technique that I got from reading comic books when I was growing up as a kid. The biggest example of this, being the "GFD: Worlds" section on the site (https://gayauthors.org/stories/browse/world/gone-from-daylight/), where the vampire stories not only reference one another in many places in connection with the original "Gone From Daylight" series on the site, but span over many decades of time, different eras, different characters, and different pieces of a MUCH larger puzzle going forward. Again, it's a challenge, but it can be done with a certain amount of skill to make it all work. As always, that takes practice.

For one thing, I believe that the stories you're trying to merge or weave into one another have to be somewhat 'compatible' with one another in order to work. I think that's a must. One of the things that I've always had a problem with was the idea of Batman and Superman in the comic books. Especially with the movie, when Gotham City and Metropolis were, literally, across the lake from one another. I mean...WTF? Why is there so much crime in Gotham City when Superman is like...right there??? He can fly half way around the world in a couple of seconds, but can't help Batman stop the crime on the other side of the lake? Weird. To me...those two stories aren't always in sync. I'd work to make sure that both characters belong in each other's world first. You can't fold two stories together when their whole existence clashes with their counterpart. You know?

But, jumping out of the superhero genre...since I write mostly stories about high school boys finding love for the very first time...it makes perfect sense that they would occasionally run into one another from time to time. Even if it's just in passing. Maybe they hang out in the same places (I made up teen hangouts like 'Frankie's' or 'Cheesey Pete's'...but they show up in multiple stories as a brief mention here and there). Maybe they share a friend or acquaintance. And...sometimes the main characters actually run into one another and interact for a brief period. It can be fun, combining stories in this way, and if you've never tried it, I recommend giving it a shot. It always makes me smile.

The key is to make those interactions short and simple, if that's the route you're taking. Don't let it drag if it's just a tongue in cheek moment. Otherwise, you end up taking your readers completely out of the immersion of the story they're reading. That's a no no. Make it quick, and then get back on task. For example, in "New Kid", I had Randy get sick for a while and his boyfriend, Ryan, came over to spend the day with him to make him feel better. And he brought over the "Billy Chase" TV series for them to watch together. Hehehe, now 'Billy' is another story entirely, but it was kind of fun to make it seem like it was a 'binge-worthy' series for two gay teens to watch together to have a good time. So I folded one story over onto the other, gave my audience a quick smile to let them know that I was just poking fun, and got right back into the meat of the story.

It was meant to be a joke...not a distraction. Something else to keep in mind.

Now...there is also a much more elaborate form of story folding that you might want to get into, which can be even more fun! And it can really be beneficial if you're collaborating with another writer and you decide to write from two different points of view. But it does take focus and a great deal of finesse to make sure that you get it right and don't find yourself dealing with a ton of inconsistencies that ultimately don't add up from chapter to chapter. Just a few slips, here and there, can cause things to splinter off and spin out of control faster than you would believe. This method can be tricky. So you've got to bring your 'A' game to the table.

One story that I did this level of folding with is (Again) "New Kid In School", as it was the story that I was most familiar with at the time, and I mixed it with the "Kiss Of An Angel" series. Now, both series run simultaneously, with two completely different stories that come from two completely points of view from two completely different characters. And I try to write them together whenever they intersect so as to keep things consistent between them without losing my place. However, that's not the real issue with folding these two stories together. The issue is trying not to write the exact same story twice in a way that will come off as boring or repetitive whenever they're together. This is where you have to find a way to craft two separate stories out of one shared moment. And that takes a bit of writer savvy.

While writing both stories...I might have both main characters having a face to face conversation, and I'll probably quote some of the same dialogue, word for word, to show that, yes, this is all happening in the exact same moment...but I always draw attention to the emotions behind said conversation instead of just having it be words on a screen. The character's motivations for saying what they said are going to be different from the person hearing it. And the response will be different from what the other character is expecting ahead of time. What's going on in each person's head while being engaged in this particular dialogue. What are they saying? What are they hiding? What is their relation to one another, and how does that affect their interaction with one another? All things to think about when pulling off this particular literary magic trick.

Like I said, the most difficult part of story folding is having every interaction feel fresh and unrehearsed. You don't want you readers to feel like they're reading the same thing in this new chapter that they read in the last chapter. What I usually do is take out certain parts of the dialogue on one side or the other, and have the main character briefly 'describe' what the other person is talking about without repeating it. I'll concentrate on their reactions, their emotions, and their personality's...instead of just copy and pasting the entirety of their dialogue to repeat what my audience already knows and has heard before.

Here is an example of a shared conversation between two characters that I made up for this particular article. Try to notice the difference between both points of view, and see if each fold feels a bit different on one side or the other...while still having both sides feel connected in some way...

 

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As I sat there and watched Brett help out with the heavy lifting in the college AV library, I found that I couldn't really take my eyes off of him. At all. Jonathan kept talking to me about how excited he was about going home for the weekend, but Brett could be awfully distracting sometimes.

"I'm telling you, Matt...it seems like it's been forever since I got some decent loving from anybody. But, I'm trying to be faithful, so...I'll just have to hope that it's worth it in the end." Jonathan said.

"Uh huh..." I answered. I wish I could have somebody waiting to give me some loving when I went home from the weekend. Little does he know that I've never had any loving from anybody at all. Not once. So I guess there really isn't anything to miss.

He kept talking to me, but I was too busy trying to fight off the feelings of intense envy that I was experiencing by watching my beautiful Brett interact with other people in this really pleasant and friendly way. He was always so cheerful. You couldn't help but to be entranced by that sweet smile of his, deep dimples and all. I couldn't hold back an occasional sigh whenever I was forced to share some personal space with him from behind this counter, but I did my best to keep it quiet.

"Brett again, huh?" Jonathan said.

That snapped me out of my trance immediately, and I suddenly forced myself to look Jonathan in the eye to keep from letting him know that I was unnaturally infatuated with another guy. I came to college to start over from scratch and get my life back on track after that particular 'incident' in high school. But I'm never going to lose the stigma of that messy existence if I get caught falling back into old habits.

"Brett? Huh? Oh...no, I hadn't noticed him. I'm just...I've got a lot on my mind. I'm sorry. I'm listening. You were talking about getting some loving when you went home, right? I'm sure that'll make for an awesome weekend."

"Yeah. I hope so." He said. "Who knows?"

 

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So, this is a scene from the mind and perspective of a single character, told in the first person, and giving you (as the reader) an idea of what's going on and how this particular character feels about the space and the situation that he is in. It conveys the needed information, reveals that he has a crush on a boy in the AV library, and tells the audience that he's a bit nervous about making a move in that direction to approach him on a romantic level.

BUT...with Matt being the main character, and Brett being the love interest...they are not the only ones taking a part in this scene. There is something going on that stretches beyond what you just read. This...is story folding.

Read the same scene down below, but being told from Jonathan's point of view...

 

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I don't know why I keep playing this game, but it's become an automatic part of my public personality. Pretending to be straight. Pretending to have a girlfriend back home, when really...all I have is some boy who lives down the block from me. One that takes turns with me when it comes to relieving some of our pent up sexual frustration when we get a chance. It's not love. Not even close to it. But there's no way that my parents would ever accept me if I told them I was gay. It's simply not an option for me.

So...I just slip into 'hetero-mode' whenever I'm around Matt. Even though...I secretly wish that I take a chance on asking him out someday. Wishful thinking, I know...but I babble on about my fake girlfriend to hopefully throw him off of my scent until I know for sure that it's safe to maybe...take a few steps closer to the truth.

"I'm telling you, Matt...it seems like it's been forever since I got some decent loving from anybody. But, I'm trying to be faithful, so...I'll just have to hope that it's worth it in the end." I told him. But he seemed distracted.

I kept following his stare to the other side of the AV library, and all I could see was Brett and his strong arms and his cute dimples...moving stuff around and being cooler than I could ever hope to be. Why is Matt so enchanted by him. Ugh! I HATE that he likes him so much! I'm sitting right here. Please...just give me a chance, dude!

"Uh huh..." Matt said, absentmindedly. I doubt that I even existed in his little dream world right now. Why doesn't Brett go away or something? He's stealing SO much of my thunder right now. I swear...I think Matt actually sighed at the sight of those deep dimples of his.

Trying to get his attention back, I said, "You know...before I go back, it might be kinda cool to catch a movie or something. Nothing major, I just want to get out for a while and have a good time. There's a new horror flick at the dollar cinema on campus." No answer. "Maybe...like...maybe we should go. I'm down to buy the popcorn if you're interested." Did Matt even hear me? He was still gazing across the room. Obvious, much? "Brett again, huh?" I asked.

Suddenly, Matt became super alert and started fidgeting in his seat. "Brett? Huh? Oh...no, I hadn't noticed him. I'm just...I've got a lot on my mind. I'm sorry. I'm listening. You were talking about getting some loving when you went home, right? I'm sure that'll make for an awesome weekend."

I take it that he missed my entire invitation to the movie then? Whatever. Maybe I'm just wasting my time with him anyway.

"Yeah. I hope so. Who knows?" I said, putting my hetero mask back in place...where it belonged.

 

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So...when folding stories, you get to approach the exact same scene, and even use a lot of the same dialogue...but you can add extras and actually enhance and enrich the whole experience by adding a new point of view. You can add layers, create a deeper backstory, do some foreshadowing...and whatever information you're getting from the first scene is going to be different from what you're getting from the second. So any reader can read both of them and come away from it feeling as though they read two different scenes entirely, instead of reading the same scene twice. Do you know what I mean?

Hehehe, I always have to wonder whether or not I'm making sense. It's much easier for me to write my stories than it is to explain HOW I write my stories. :P

Anyway, if you ever want to try some story folding of your own, have some of your works crossover, or just want to have a few fun moments where some of your characters' lives, popular locations, or certain major events, overlap or send out ripples throughout some of your other stories...this is a good place to start. Train yourself to think outside of your main characters and their current situation. Everyone that you create should, in some way, feel as though they have a full life outside of the one that you write for them. They have friends, family, jobs, homework, parents, children...don't veer too far off the road, but ask yourself what's going on around them while they're doing whatever it is that they're doing.

When two people are having a conversation in order to move the plot along...what are the motivations and thoughts and emotions of the person they're having the dialogue with? If you're not thinking about that, you know what you have? You have exposition. Just because you put a face on it and give it a character name...that doesn't mean that it's not just an info dump of exposition. And you won't fool a lot of dedicated readers with it, either. Trust me, I've tried. Hehehe!

Anyway, this was a long one! (That's what HE said!) Sorry about that! But I hope it helps. Food for thought! Best of luck to all of you writers out there! Talk to you soon!

 

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  • Site Administrator

So, I tend to do this naturally, as most writers in Fantasy and Science Fiction would.  If you spend the time building a world, you want more than one story in it.  It's only natural to do the same with contemporary stories and it's always a little delight for the reader when it happens.

Not too dissimilar to the delight you experience when Spider-Man shows up in Captain America Civil War. ;)

 

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