Linking Stories are Like Legos

(By Tyler J. Petty)

Endings are always difficult to write. It’s almost impossible to include everything you want to have in a story, and the process of deciding what really needs to be there versus what I want to have in the story can be enough to make me want to abandon the project altogether. And all of that comes before the question of how I’m going to organize the story so that the thing I want to finish with (assuming I even know what that is) actually comes at the “end” of the story.
As difficult as all those issues are to navigate when you’re working with a single story, the process becomes even more complicated when you’re writing a series of linked stories. With the linked stories I’m working on right now, I have to figure out what I’m going to do with all of those issues and possibilities for each individual story, and at the same time, keep in mind how each story fits into the overall narrative I want to tell, which stretches across all of those stories.
                                              
It’s like I have ten sets of Legos. Each one has its own composite pieces that fit together to construct a pirate ship, castle, or space station, and each set is internally complete. That is, I don’t have any leftover pieces when I finish the pirate ship. As I’m building the individual sets, however, I decide that I want all of them to connect together and form a much larger set that incorporates all the castles and space stations, and that also combines a new, unified super-set. And I have to do combine them in a way that doesn’t make the super-set look like a Frankenstein’s monster of mismatched pieces.
                        
The way I see it, that is the largest difficulty in constructing a series of linked stories: Ending each story so that it’s complete, but also feeds into the other stories around it and allows room for them to connect and cohere into a larger whole.
One approach that has helped me with the series of linked stories I’m currently writing is the decision to write all of them in first-person. That has allowed me to use the limitations and gaps in a given character’s awareness as sockets into which I can fit the perspective of a different character, which then helps to clarify the previous story, while at the same time branching off and becoming a story of it’s own.
For example, the first story in my series, “Thirteen Little Words,” is narrated by Jenna, a fifteen-year-old girl who lives with her single mother. Jenna has a collection of books in which she and her father wrote notes and comments while they read them together. Jenna’s father is now out of the picture, so she uses the books, such as A Little Princess,  as a substitute for him:
Miss Minchin was quite agitated. This was an incident
which suggested strange things to her sordid mind. Could
it be that she had made a mistake, after all, and that the
neglected child had some powerful though eccentric friend                        
in the background—perhaps some previously unknown                        Trace mine, Dad.           
relation who had suddenly traced her whereabouts, and                        I’d take anything
chose to provide for her in this mysterious and fantastic way?             from you.
Jenna’s collection has expanded beyond just the books from her father, however. She also has a collection of fairy tales with a set of notes in them. She discovers the fairy tales previously belonged to Harold, a man she meets at the local park. When Jenna offers to give the fairy tales back to Harold, he refuses, saying, “My days with this book are over.” Harold then exits the story, while Jenna continues to narrate it.
Harold narrates the next story in the collection, “An Echo of Better Days,” which explains how and why he wrote those notes in the fairy tale collection, and also why he chose to give it away. In that story, Harold also mentions a waiter at the local French restaurant named Charles; the next story, “Poulet avec Legumes,” is narrated by Charles.
Using these sockets has helped me to think of each story as a separate entity, with its own plot and narrative arc, while also keeping my out for the “open spaces” I can use to fit the stories together, building them up into a creation that maintains the integrity of all the individual pieces, but also combines them into a new, unified structure.
                         
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