I posted about epic fantasy and its need for multiple plot lines, you can find tips on Creating Multiple Plot Lines here. It's one thing to come up with lots of ideas for multiple plots, but this can become confusing when you try to outline or compose your epic fantasy novel. Here's some different ways to keep track of and add structure to complicated plots:
Create a time-line for the events of the story, beginning just before the inciting incident and ending just after the final climax. Now using the same time frame for each main character, plot out their story events on that time line. Next you will compare each character's events. You want everyone's story to come together or peak at the same major climax point, but the events that confront them on their individual journeys could happen at differing times. This way, you don't get too much overlap or repetition and keep a constant pace with tension rising right up to the big climax.
Many authors use index cards to plot out their novels. Write a short synopsis of every scene on the cards, labeling each card to identify which main character it relates to (some will relate to multiple characters when their paths cross). Then lay the story lines out in order, in rows of character plots. This way you can coordinate when they should cross, move scenes around to suit and identify unnecessary or repeated scenes.
A very simple idea, but whichever structure style you prefer, assign different colours to the main characters, it will make it easier and quicker to identify each plot line.
You'll probably already know about story arcs, this is the path your character takes and the changes to your character throughout the story. Almost always, a character should grow and learn through their experience. You can chart a character's story arc similar to the time line, the overall arch will be your leading protagonist, but they may have other characters they meet along the way, and those characters will have their own arcs. Some might stay to the end of the story and others might come and go (or just go, if they die). By using a different colour for each character, your story arcs might look something like this (apologies, I found a great example online, and then couldn't find it again when I was ready to do this blog):
Some of your characters may be on a hero's quest, or some might be experiencing growing tension until the climax, other characters might follow the classic three act structure. You can mix it up, and probably keeping track of their comings and going in the time-line will be enough.
I've also been reading James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure, and he suggests when writing complex plots you understand your theme, which can emerge from your characters' struggles. He also says that in an epic plot, the lead's (protagonist) objective may change to suit the stage of their quest, for example, in the beginning of the story they might want to fulfill some personal desire, during the middle they might be just trying to survive, but in a later stage/setting, their objective might be more selfless and they may set out to save someone (like a princess from a dragon). If you have two or more parallel plots (two characters, each with their own quest and objective), cut back and forth as each character heads towards the shared climax.
My study into writing fantasy fiction continues. To help on my quest, the kids and I visited a local games store and for the very first time in my life, I have now played:
It totally baffled me.
As well as the two instruction manuals included, we were talked into taking another 300+ page manual on character creations. Turns out, there's lots of maths and recording to this game. Day two of instruction reading, and I was still not any closer to understanding the game so we could play. I then paid a nice sum to subscribe to the online community. Still confused. Matilda, who is all of eleven, got frustrated with me, sat down and read through the thinest manual and quickly became our Dragon Master. She has been talking me through. What I have discovered, is it's a great way to create novel plots and... I really like squishing goblins.