Topics: [[Fiction Writing]] [[Plotting]] [[Parallel Lines]]
Author: [[Mark McElroy]]
I created this outline by brainstorming my major plot points, then overlaying onto [a fifty-chapter structure I adapted from work by Nathan Bransford](https://nathanbransford.com/blog/2020/01/my-plot-framework).
This is all the material I had before I started writing the novel, and I wrote this outline in about a day.
Do I need to shout "**Major Spoilers!!!!**"? I mean, the whole book is outlined here. And while it'll absolutely shift and change -- it already is! -- reading this will absolutely spoil your fun. I've included this here mostly as an artifact to give other writers a peek at my process ... and to help me get oriented as I write.
I don't see this as written in stone, and if it changes in any major ways, I'll note those changes here somehow.
**MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! I WARNED YOU!**
# Outline from 2021-07-27
## General Notes
The original title was "4 Lines," but then I started hearing "Heart of Glass" in my head, which comes from the album *Parallel Lines*.
Cliche pitch line: It's a gay "Groundhog Day" combined with "Sliding Doors."
To make the novel compelling, it has to be more than four related short stories about relationships that don't quite work out. (That was the seed of this idea -- MM.) Each outcome needs to be more troubling and more dangerous and more disturbing than the last.
The MC can't just meander from universe to universe. Each timeline has to be more brutal than the last in terms of what happens, and each timeline should provide him with a series of increasingly troubling personal insights.
Part of the point of the story is: whomever he's with, he's still himself: self-absorbed, short-tempered, never fully appreciating what he has. Each encounter with a timeline needs to bring one of these qualities to the surface in a painful way.
Also: I think each universe is subtly different from the others, just for fun. Not too bizarre or distracting, but different. Not home. Like, one has no iPhone, for example, so everyone has little laptops they carry around. Or there's a tv show everyone's obsessed with; even the MC is drawn to it. And so on.
## Act one
**Chapters 1-3: The starting place**. The normal world.
- MC has great partner, but is detached from it. Lots of porn. Frustration with not being what he thinks he could have been at work. Hasn't achieved what he should have achieved. And feels guilty about all the wonderful things his partner does. The open relationship thing is going on, but partner doesn't need anyone else, and even that makes the MC angry. (Man, this guy needs to "Save the Cat", or we won't stick with him. Let's have him make a heart-felt toast at the big party.) Later that night, MC goes to party with partner, flirts with younger guy who reminds him of a past fantasy person (this will be the kid who says the theme out loud, when MC backs off at last minute, "You gotta live in the now, man."), admires a straight man, sees the straight couples, has experiences with types of folks he'll have experiences with later, maybe even hooks up. Then has conversation with IC that leads to the basement.
**Chapter 4: Protagonist knocked off kilter** Inciting incident.
- MC goes to sleep and wakes up in Alternative Timeline One with the straight woman and a son.
**Chapters 5-10: Buildup/escape routes closed.** Deepening stakes, new obstacles.
- MC gets into this new life, convinces himself he can do this. He has been doing this. Ignores signs the wife is unhappy, and focuses on the job he loved, but left in the past: teaching at a local college. He then finds out he's been having serial affairs with young men in his classes, and that this is about to come out, and runs away to find Ed.
**Chapter 11: First act climax**. Point of no return. We are on this trip.
- Reunited with Ed, but Ed doesn't know Thomas in this universe, because they never met. But after hearing what Thomas describes, this universe's Ed opens up to him. We learn the structure of the trip: how the technology works, the four stops ... "This was the first. Two more you determined ... and one, encrypted, that I seem to have come up with for you -- see? It's my intention pattern, not yours." What's in it? "I don't know." The IC tells MC, "You gonna have to go through with this, or stay here. At this point, those are your choices."
## Act two
**Chapters 12-13: There’s no turning back.** We're in deep now!
- MC ends up in Alternative Timeline 2, but alone, and uncertain what this means. The Fantasy Straight Guy -- a guy Thomas had a fling with in college, and still moons over -- shows up.
**Chapters 14-24: Things are getting exciting but dangerous.** The promise of the premise; exploring new territory.
- Back then, MC fell hard, Straight Guy wanted wife and kids, broke things off. Straight Guy is his in this timeline, but is cheating on his wife and kids. MC may discover he has HIV by finding a health department form. The sex is fantastic, and has maybe gone on behind the scenes for years, but we need to see the family's pain, and we need to understand the toll that being a secret lover takes on the MC, who is lonely and unfulfilled. We may need to have a terrible encounter with the woman and her children. Maybe this cycle ends with straight guy -- or one of his kids -- committing suicide? MC learns a lesson about cheating, perhaps even learns that he's not the only one, perhaps learns he's got a disease from this guy who has been cheating all over the place, that the family has it, that they blame him for it. The sex is great. But things are over quickly, as Straight Guy feels guilty. And the wife has followed him here, and she accosts the MC. "You're wrecking us! You're literally killing us! He has children! I'm sick!" She has a gun. MC learns from her that he's not the only one the straight guy has been with. He gets around. He probably infected MC. Someone killed -- maybe the wife commits suicide? You gotta accept that a relationship built on lies will never be a healthy relationship. Whatever was wrong between the MC and his real husband was at least based on something real and true and mutual.
**Chapter 25: Second act climax.** False dawn, but actually a defeat.
- MC wants out, and once again goes to find Ed. His friend exists in this timeline, but Timeline Two Ed is angry, bitter -- he never met Warren, who made him a better person. At first, MC thinks, "Okay, the IC will take pity and send me home. I'm ready." And maybe this IC can. But he has no sympathy at all and throws the MC out. "I have nothing for you. You're a terrible, ungrateful, unfaithful person. I hope you're trapped here and that you die."
* This doesn't sound like Ed at all, so maybe rethink this.
## Act three
**Chapter 26: Start of the decline.** New reflexes may have worked up to now, but now digging deeper is required.
- The third timeline: the gay and available Fantasy guy -- the one Thomas left for Carter.
**Chapters 27-33: A mix of false hope and things getting serious.** Cracks in the plan emerge, and all gains are lost.
- Fantasy Gay Guy who he had a brief thing with, but gravitated away from. Fantasy guy is just as self-absorbed, porn-addicted, neurotic, and short-tempered as the MC. It's like a relationship with himself. Or perhaps it's a relationship based only on sexual attraction -- with no real romantic involvement at all, and is therefore unfulfilling. It's hot, but empty. Why even together? None of the beautiful rhythm of a long-term relationship -- just the trappings of it. The MC and the fantasy guy aren't in love particularly. No flame between them; it's all about their conquests elsewhere: tell me what happened when you were out with other people. Drugs. Porn. Sex between them is perfunctory and lame; the fantasy guy is all about porn and is getting texts from others. The sexual flame between them has died, and they are partners of convenience. It's pretty but empty and lonely. "Being with someone like me, out of your league, means living with me getting what I really need somewhere else. Take that or leave it." Maybe the guy's even physically abusive or threatening. You gotta accept that there's more to a relationship than sexual attraction, especially that sexual attraction you felt at the beginning.
**Chapter 34: False climax.** The whiff of death! A mentor is lost.
- This timeline has no Ed at all. Warren is there, is a little horrified to see Thomas -- "You're the younger guy who slept with Ed and shattered our relationship." Actions have consequences.
**Chapters 35-38: Nadir.** MC alone, damaged, week. All hope lost.
- Thomas leaves Warren's place and decide's he's going to track down Carter. Carter is in a relationship with someone wonderful -- and is happier than he's ever been with Thomas. It's heartbreaking.
- In this dark night of the soul, the MC comes to realize what he's lost, and how he has failed to appreciate what he has. He longs for home.
**Chapter 39: Third act climax.** Lowest point; defeat feels real.
- On the streets, alone, he sleeps one last time. At first, he can't sleep, and this is cause for panic. What if he's awake when the pulse comes through from the clock tower? He takes pills, maybe. What if he dies before the pulse comes through? Panicked, groggy, he just wants to be home.
## Act four
**Chapter 40: Protagonist turns the corner.** MC finds energy for one last push and makes a key realization.
- In this timeline he's with his current partner, Carter ... which would be a shock (Thomas will wonder: Did I skip the fourth stop?") ... but in this universe, Thomas himself has been a better person. THOMAS is what's changed -- and life is better as a result.
**Chapters 41-45: Building toward the climax.** Knocking down barriers, leading to final confrontation.
- In this universe, they never opened the relationship. Thomas never got into porn. Thomas and Carter never withdrew from each other. And it's wonderful -- all because the MC was a better person.
- Thomas vows to become this self and stay in this universe. He'll stay up late tonight and remain here.
- As he has been every day, Thomas is back on the morning of the day when they will go to the party later that night. What happens if he focuses as he should? Everything is going beautifully ... until, without explanation, Carter disappears and doesn't return.
- Thomas gets a cryptic message, telling him to be at a certain place or time or Carter will suffer.
**Chapters 46-48: The climax**. All powers and teaching needed to overcome the final test.
- MC/Thomas gets to the destination
- Oh no! In this universe, there's an angry, vengeful "By the Book" Ed who can tell when someone has been illegally using the tech that lets you skip across dimensions ... and this Ed arrives and whisks Thomas away from paradise.
- "The problem in these relationships isn't the other people not measuring up ... it's you, the fact that you don't focus on and appreciate what you have. You spend more time watching porn than thinking about your partner. And now, the price you'll pay: you're going to be locked away as a temporal transgressor, and have nothing at all."
- "You aren't going anywhere. We shut down the clock tower because every trip between timelines has the potential to collapse them. Each universe is different, but is more different because of your presence in it. You're the problem. You're always a problem. And since you're an abberation in this timeline, you're going to be locked away.
- The MC will narrowly escape, right before the clock strikes midnight, by convincing the IC to have mercy -- by showing him the timeline that Thomas originates in ... where this Ed has a Warren.
**Chapter 49: Denouement.** Implications realized, plot threads wrapped up.
- Thomas/MC back in the real world, the morning AFTER the actual day of the party. (He's lived the party day four times over, but now the tirp is done.) He deletes his porn. He swears to end dalliances. Tevin is rebuffed. He showers his bewildered partner with affection. ("This isn't how you usually are. You're not ... this attentive. Thank you.") There's a flicker of renewed interest. They have wonderful, sweet, familiar sex. Thomas' sincerity gets forgiveness.
- People are shocked and bewildered, but happy.
- Thomas runs to find Ed, and they embrace.
**Chapter 50: Finale.** What's next for our hero?
- It's Thomas and Carter's thirtieth anniversary. There is a photo of Ed and Warren, now deceased, in Thomas' home. The party is wonderful, and there is a young lesbian there who clearly means a lot to the two of them. She's bummed, though, because she's screwing up her relationship. Thomas retrieves a little box from his study; he has a little secret to share ...