"Feature Length Movies Should Not Have 18 Different Plots."There are advantages and disadvantages to having Loads and Loads of Characters. Giving each character A Day in the Limelight can be time-consuming as the focus rotates along the cast. To speed things up a bit, some authors use such formulas as Two Lines, No Waiting and Third Line, Some Waiting, in which an episode shifts focus from one group of characters to another, thus creating multiple Plot Threads. And then there's Four Lines, All Waiting: When a show—typically a Soap Opera, although any Soaperized show will do—maintains four or more concurrent plotlines advancing simultaneously throughout an episode. Sometimes every episode of a season. The episodes are structured like a miniature Soap Wheel cycling through a day's worth of events in "real time", going from one group of people to another and then starting the cycle anew. See also Kudzu Plot and You All Share My Story.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- The Arrancar Arc was an exceptionally long story arc; Tite Kubo introduced three brand new groups of characters (the Espadas, Fracciones and Visoreds), without removing any of the already huge cast. The Espadas and Fracciones became unexpected popular, forcing Executive Meddling to insist that Kubo given each new character A Day In The Lime Light. The arc was split across two dimensions (Hueco Mundo and the World of the Living), with at least four separated groups within Hueco Mundo, and multiple one-on-one fights in the human world. The arc took years to complete and the constant switching of scenery to catch up with each group in turn became exhausting for the fandom to follow.
- The Thousand-Year Blood War Arc juggles as many plotlines as the Arrancar Arc, but with brisker, more consistent pacing. There's the group training in the Royal Realm; the Gotei survivors in Seireitei picking up the pieces and trying to prepare for the next invasion; Yhwach and his Quincies embroiled in internal politics; a Hueco Mundo group consisting of Arrancar, Urahara, Chad and Orihime; Kukaku and Ganju training three Fullbringers in Rukongai; the remaining Visoreds tackling the tears in space-time; and the spiritually-aware humans dealing with Ichigo's possible departure. Many of these threads consolidated and came together after 2-3 years of storyline, much faster than the Arrancar Arc took.
- Naruto looked like it was doing this (or Third Line, Some Waiting) with Konoha, Taka, Pain, and the rest of the Akatsuki, but as of the Shinobi World War, the plot lines have converged (except one which just ended) and more or less all happen within the same issue or so.
- The anime seems to be trying to lessen the effect of this by switching around the order of events to keep the narrative more on one story line at a time (for instance, in the manga, Sasuke finally finding Itachi and then fighting him was split up into two halves with Jiraiya's investigation of Pain in the Rain Village between them, while in the anime those two storylines happened separately and in their entire length at once).
- This might be because of their poor track record with multiple plots. Such as the invasion of Konoha where the 3rd Hokage and Orochimaru were stuck in the same combat pose for weeks, or in the Rescue Gaara Arc with Naruto and Kakashi never actually catching up to Deidara until literally the last few episodes of the arc, despite spending at least 10% of every episode beforehand showing them slowly advancing.
- Mahou Sensei Negima!:
- The school festival mega-arc has Negi visiting nearly all of his students, entering a fighting tournament, and dealing with the machinations of his time-travelling Martian descendant. This is actually a clever aversion of this trope though, as Negi uses time travel to do everything in the three days of the festival, and you see it from Negi's chronological point of view instead of a bunch of scene-cuts.
- The Magic World arc comes close to this: the main plot is still moving at a good pace, but some of the subplots (especially Yue's Laser-Guided Amnesia and the fate of the real Asuna) are still awaiting resolution (although the latter case is almost certainly being saved for The Reveal). Whether this is a problem depends on the reader.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society was originally planned as a third season, and tried to juggle about four slightly connected storylines at the same time. Had it been a season and not a movie, there would definetly have been a fifth storyline.
- Legend of Galactic Heroes is the undisputed kaiser of this trope. It got to the point where there were so many different character arcs going on at once, they show subtitles with the characters' names every time they appear just so you could keep track of everybody.
- This became necessary in One Piece once the Straw Hat Pirates' numbers got large enough that they couldn't reasonably be all grouped together all the time. Whenever three or more stories take place at the same time, however, the author compensates by moving the plot along at a breakneck pace. This gives the anime adaptation enough material for a half-hour episode per chapter.
- Due to having Loads and Loads of Characters, many of whom with their own plotlines, this tends to happens during the larger story arcs in Tokyo Ghoul. The Rushima Arc in particular stands out, with plotlines often being halted for several chapters at a time. This leads to Kaneki and Arima's rematch lasting ten chapters despite not the fight not being terribly long in general.
- El Hazard: The Alternative World, an OVA sequel to the original El Hazard OVA, throws the cast into an alternate world and splits them into four parties and then spends most of a dozen episodes following each group in turn until they meet up again. This did not make it easy to remember the overall story or any new characters. And then the series got canceled at episode 13 out of a planned 26.
- Sistine Chapel: With about six entirely different series of paintings laid across the entire chapel, first time pilgrims often have trouble taking it in before tour guides inform them that their visit has concluded. It simultaneously displays art telling the life of Jesus, the life of Moses, the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, the ancestry of Jesus, the succession of the Popes, and Christ's last judgement of humanity upon his Second Coming.
- Countdown to Final Crisis:
- a) Bob the Monitor's party (Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner and Jason Todd) searching the multiverse for Ray Palmer and exploring each universe in varying detail only to get the Your Princess Is in Another Castle screen every time while randomly pretending to kill each other for convoluted reasons.
- b) Mary Marvel chasing Black Adam, turning evil, chasing Eclipso, killing people, turning good, turning evil again, and beating up everyone.
- c) Pied Piper and Trickster running around spying on supervillains while handcuffed to each other and trying to avoid being captured by superheroes.
- d) THE DEATH OF THE NEW GODS OMG. Except no one actually figures out what to do, making the A-listers look like chumps.
- e) Jimmy Olsen getting plagued with random superpowers and alternating between investigating the death of the New Gods, trying to be a superhero, going on angst-breaks with Superman, getting kidnapped, and getting kidnapped from his kidnapper.
- f) Harley Quinn and Holly Robinson getting trained as warriors by Granny Goodness disguised as Athena, teaming up with Hippolyta, and winding up on Apokalips, and...
- g) Triplicate Girl and Karate Kid getting stranded in the past and running around looking for a cure to a lethal virus. All of this interspersed with scenes of Darkseid playing with his action figures, heroes who have nothing to do with the plot running into the main characters, Super-Manboy-Asshole-Prime destroying planets and fighting Monarch, and the Monitors endlessly spouting "We should do something!" "Should we do something?"
- The entirety of Countdown can be described as "Between Eight and Ten Kudzu Plotlines, All Waiting."
- Empowered started with several more or less unrelated one-shots, but with time, some plots started to emerge: So far we have Thugboy's plot (his past, and everything Willy Pete-related), Ninjette's plot (involving the other ninjas), the Fleshmaster/Capeys/Manny plot, and of course the romantical plot for our OTP / OT3. And even now, there's time for some smaller stories.
- Part of the problem of the first year of Amazing Spider-Man's Brand New Day arc. Storylines such as the identity of Menace, the mystery of Harry's return, the election of a New Mayor of New York, and the Spider-Tracer murders were all milked for all they were worth for an entire year, and mostly resolved within a single storyline. Creators have gone on record saying they intended to touch base on the plot threads a lot more in the year prior, but ran out of time. This despite having at least three times the length as any other series to make such plans. And that didn't stop plotlines in the next two years from being milked for all they were worth and not resolved until the "big finale" of Brand New Day - Origin of the Species.
- Averted, and very well, in Sin City. While you can see some characters talk on the background, some of them are recognizable, or even main characters, their story WILL be expanded on next storylines and issues, and most of these storylines occur in a single frame of time, characters with their own story crossing each other. A particular example is in 'The Hard Goodbye', as Marv enters Kadie's bar, we see how Dwight appears in a bar, as Shellie, a dancer, picks him up, and is in his story, 'A Dame To Kill For'.
- Batman Beyond Unlimited started out with two features per issue, and by the fourth issue has four separate storylines going on at once.
- A common criticism of X-Men: The Hidden Years by John Byrne. As Paul O'Brien put it:
We're now getting deep into the phase where the book is juggling far, far too many subplots for its own good. By this point so much time is being spent on things like the Savage Land that nothing is really managing to come to the fore any more. This would be okay if all these plots were actually moving forward, but all too often they're not really moving at all - the main purpose of the scenes is simply to remind us that they're there.
- Batwoman: To Drown The World Arc had this, plot lines would be divided, and the book would go from Jake Kane to Kate, then to Batwoman, Chase, and Maggie, because of this, the book jumped all over the place, with Batwoman's scenes taking place at the end, with all the other plots building up to it. The end result was Writing for the Trade. The next Arc, World's finest, downplayed this, most issues focused on Batwoman and Wonder Woman, and sometimes the Bette/Jake story or the Bones/Chase story would appear in the same issue, before all of them converged on the climax.
- The graphic novel Tricked bases its entire story around this trope; there are six lead characters and each has various levels of intersection with each other. It's spaced out well though, as each chapter switches it's lead, each lead follows a specific order, and there's no skipping a character (though each chapter may not be equal in length), until the very last chapter (and the epilogue) which is a free for all of the six stories smashing into each other.
- After the Mind Games arc concluded, this happened to the Pony POV Series. Currently, the series is primarily focused on concluding the Dark World storyline, while semi-regularly switching over to Shining Armor's story, which focuses on his backstory (and is set to go all the way to the events leading to the Royal Wedding). Meanwhile, there's also the "7 Dreams/Nightmares" collection, telling the stories of the G2 mane cast before and after the Class 2 apocalypse that ended that period; due to being a group effort, this collection updates sporadically and infrequently (Pinkie naturally lampshades this). And finally, there's the main POV series, which has been put on hold until the others are complete.
- The Nuptialverse falls from the Third Line, Some Waiting of Families into this in the sequel Direction. The prologue sets up Queen Chrysalis engaging in an unknown plan on behalf of a resurgent Discord, potential tension over the unknown circumstances of Celestia obtaining Spike's egg, and Fancypants and Zecora of all people apparently up to shady business as well.... All of which is promptly ignored for several chapters (and over a year's worth of updates), as Twilight and Spike leave for another dimension in pursuit of the stolen Element of Magic, the remaining Mane 5 have to balance their everyday responsibilities with investigating Sunset Shimmer's break-in (under the shaky supposition that the villains of the last story were involved), Celestia grows obsessed with barely-remembered tales involving the human girl Megan, Rarity deals with Sweetie Belle suddenly falling ill, and a still-crazy Trixie runs around trying to put together a team of the Mane 6's old foes, to the point where it's not even clear what the plot is supposed to be. However, after the first arc ends with Trixie's Heel–Face Turn and her accomplices' escape, this is greatly trimmed away, with the plot threads resolved or relegated to the background in favor of an apparently straightforward quest.
Films — Animated
- There are at least four ongoing plots tied together in The Secret Of NIMH-—Ms. Brisby trying to save her children from the farmer's plow, the Rats of NIMH trying to leave for Thorn Valley, Jenner trying to sabotage their moving plans by murdering Nicodemus in a staged accident, so in turn he can usurp leadership of the Rats of NIMH, and Jeremy the Crow trying to find a love interest. And if you count the tiny subplot of the farmer interacting with people from NIMH who are searching for the rats and plan to destroy them, that's a grand total of five. Surprisingly, the sequel directly followed up on that last plot thread.
- This is one reason Titanic: The Legend Goes On was such a flop. Some plotlines don't even converge until the epilogue, and even then it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Films — Live-Action
- Avengers: Age of Ultron was criticized for trying to give each Avenger their own individual character arc, which result in the majority of them being underdeveloped or badly executed.
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came under critique partly because some viewers felt that trying to be Man of Steel 2, a Batman solo film, and set up the Justice League at the same was to Dawn of Justice's detriment.
- A major criticism of Spider-Man 3. Having to deal with Sandman, Venom/The Black Suit, Harry Osborn, and the romance between Peter and Mary Jane left the movie feeling more than a little cramped. Ultimately, there wasn't enough time for any one plot line to be handled as it deserved to be.
- Also a major criticism of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from many critics who felt that the film tried to cram in too many villains and subplots to its overall detriment.
- Averted frequently by Robert Altman. Take Nashville for example, something like twenty characters, the film constantly shuffles between them, building a world of interplay rather than plot. Also this being an Altman, the dialogue is very low on the sound mix, sometimes several conversations at once, plus music, it's up to you which characters you want to listen to.
- Also averted in Love Actually. Several different intersecting stories, all about love in one form or another, and about an 80% Happy Ending ratio.
- Cradle Will Rock consists of no less than six concurrent stories woven together to give a picture of Depression-era New York, including: capitalists materially supporting European fascists, a ventriloquist struggling in vaudeville's death throes while falling for a rabid anti-Communist, Diego Rivera painting a mural for John D. Rockefeller, Hallie Flanagan trying to save the Federal Theatre Project in the face of Red Scare politics, an Italian immigrant distancing himself from his pro-fascist family - all of which is united somehow by Orson Welles' and John Houseman's increasingly troubled production of The Cradle Will Rock.
- This is often how the Carry On movies worked, mostly being justified as a film series in which "no one was the star" — the "star is Carry On". The only actor that usually never had a satisfying conclusion was Charles Hawtrey's characters.
- Mister Lonely: Unusually, in that they're only two threads, but the A-Plot involving the Celebrity Impersonator commune and the B-Plot involving the Skydiving Nuns are cut-between so evenly there's a bit of waiting for both of them.
- The finale of The Phantom Menace cut rapidly between four separate battles—the lightsaber duel between Qui-Gon/Obi-wan and Darth Maul, Queen Amidala and her troops' hunt for Nute Gunray, the Gungans' blockade against the battle droid invasion, and the space battle against the droid command center above Naboo—which would not be an example of this trope if they didn't vary so wildly in tone. The rest of the movie also has the Anakin plot, the Sith mystery, the invasion story, and the political maneuvering plot.
- There are several plots going on all at once in Camp Nowhere. First, there's the primary storyline about the kids faking a summer camp and maintaining the facade. Then there's the four kids' various Character Developments, each of which takes up varying amounts of screentime. There's a plotline about Dennis owing money on an AMC Gremlin, complete with a debt collector on Dennis' tail. And then there are separate subplots about the five leads each getting a piece of the Token Romance pie—Dennis/Celeste, Mud/Gaby, and Zack/Trish. Finally, there are some minor subplots including one character fixing up a classic car, and a minor character goading another minor character into Skinny Dipping.
- The film version of He's Just Not That Into You, which literally features four different plotlines of varying style. Suffers from some Mood Whiplash because of it.
- In the film version of The Return of the King, up to five plot threads (Frodo, Aragorn, Merry, Pippin and Arwen) are maintained through the movie, though they all converge by the end.
- The first Transformers movie has this. Besides the Autobots vs Decepticons, there is the military plot, the Sam and Mikela teenage romance plot, the Sector 7 conspiracy plot, and the mostly pointless Hollywood Hacking plot with the hot NSA agent.
- Star Trek Beyond has Party Scattering once the Enterprise is destroyed, cutting back and forth from 4 groups stranded on a planet, Kirk, Chekov, and the alien who brought them to the trap; Scotty and an Action Girl he finds on the planet; McCoy and an injured Spock; and the rest of the crew, who were captured by the bad guy. Then they start converging through the second, as the alien girl lives on a crashed spaceship.
- This is a frequent trait of Roland Emmerich's disaster films.
- Independence Day: The movie starts following David in New York, President Whitmore in Washington, and Russell and Captain Hiller in Los Angeles. After the aliens begin their attack, we get Jasmine looking for survivors in LA. The plot points start to converge about halfway through the film, as the survivors start arriving at Area 51.
- The Day After Tomorrow: After the global blizzard starts, Jack heads to New York to rescue his son, Sam, who's trapped at the New York Public Library. Professor Rapson is another plot thread that drops off halfway through the film, as he and his group begin to freeze.
- 2012: By far, the most threads and most connections. Jackson and his family escaping LA, Adrian trying to organize the survival of humanity, Adrian's dad on a cruise ship, the President staying behind in Washington.
- The Wheel of Time: It started out juggling the threads well enough, but as the series went on, the unbelievably large amount of characters bogged it down to a snail's pace. Add in the Seasonal Rot with Robert Jordan's growing focus on political maneuvering and Costume Porn, and it's a wonder when things happen. Book 10 deserves a special mention for being largely the reactions of every cast group to a single event. Book 10 is over 700 pages long... and the event in question occured in the previous book, where it was the main plot of that novel so already dealt with in some detail. There's a reason fans hate it.
- As the story progresses, Weber's Safehold slowly turns into this, with more and more POV characters appearing each book. After starting with four main storylines (Merlin/Nimue's, Cayleb's, fleet's and Church's) it expanded into at least eight (not to count characters that are introduced for a few chapters only to be killed off of Put on a Bus) as of Midst Toil And Tribulation. Some characters tend to disappear for a hundred pages, although Weber sometimes reminds us of their existence by chapters that could be titled "Meanwhile, somewhere else".
- Harry Turtledove's Worldwar, Timeline-191 and Darkness Series. Loads and Loads of Characters mean we can go 100 pages between appearances of a given character. Sometimes, it works.
- Red Storm Rising eventually juggles multiple storylines:
- Lieutenant Edwards and his struggle to survive behind enemy lines after the Soviets capture Iceland. Also provides the lone romantic sub-plot of the story. This also involves part of that sub-plot being shown from the Soviet side.
- Commander Mc Cafferty, as Captain of the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Chicago.
- Commander Morris as a frigate captain on convoy escort duty.
- Lieutenant Commander Toland who starts to put together the picture of the Soviet intentions and tactics, as well as being the POV character on the Aircraft Carrier Nimitz.
- General-Colonel Pavel Leonidovich Alekseyev who provides the main military point of view character on the Soviet side.
- Mikhail Eduardovich Sergetov, member of the Soviet Politburo, who provides the point of view character in regards to Soviet politics.
- Sergeant First Class Terry Mackall, a tank commander who is the point of view character for the NATO ground force side of the plot.
- There are also NATO fighter units that get their own plots, namely a Stealth Fighter squadron, and one that involves an F-15 pilot who shoots down Soviet satellites.
- Essentially anything Peter F. Hamilton writes, Pandora's Star in particular. It is over 900 pages of seemingly unimportant plotlines and occasionally entire chapters of flavour text. Thankfully it's to set up the second, and much more action packed book in the series.
- Otherland. You have three groups within Otherland; the story arc involving Dread and Officer Skouros, and Mr. Sellar's story arc.
- The first Uplift novel almost veered into this trope. Thankfully, David Brin got his act together for the rest of the books by changing to a first-person narrative and labeling each chapter with the name of the character doing the narrating.
- A Song of Ice and Fire relies on this trope to the point that it's a defining characteristic of the series. There's roughly four main plot lines (seen from a variety of POVs): the stuff at the Wall, the political upheavals in Westeros, Bran's adventure, and Dany in Essos.
- Somewhat in Les Misérables; all plot threads tie together and primarily only alternate between the views two main characters. The problem is that the story only takes up about half the book. The other half is Hugo's long, insightful ramblings about everything. The hair-raising adventures of Jean Valjean will be periodically interrupted by hundred page-long discourses on the daily lives of nuns, the definition of slang, and the sewer systems of Paris. This will lead to something of a One Line All Waiting situation.
- During a busy period in The King's Justice, Kelson and Morgan are leading one army while Duncan and Dhugal are leading another searching for and finding different groups of the Mearan rebels, while Jehana learns of an assassination attempt against Nigel and wrestles with her guilt, while Nigel (having learned of it already from another source) prepares to deal with it. Then Duncan and Dhugal get separated, and Arilan takes advantage of the opportunity to deal with Jehana and her guilt before reporting to the Camberian Council...This is a very full day in the life.
- Can you say "Michael Crichton?" Good luck keeping track of all the plotlines in Next without a Character Sheet.
- Stephen King's Under the Dome has anywhere from a half dozen to a full dozen lines at any given time. The Stand gets into this every so often as well.
- Against The Day by Thomas Pynchon manages four genres, all waiting. They are boy's adventure, western revenge, geek eccentric science and spy adventuress. In different parts of the book, one will be become more dominant.
- A Thread of Grace follows Nazis, Italian Catholics, Italian Jews, and other Jewish refugees all over Northern Italy in the waning days of World War II.
- The Polish young reader book, "Cyryl, gdzie jesteś?" (Cyryl, Where Are You?) begins with three threads at once since chapter one, and blooms into as many as eight plot threads at once, sometimes jumping between them one sentence at a time. Also, two of the threads ost distant from the main plot are marked with a different font style. When the characters from these two plot threads come together near the end of the book, their font styles briefly meet in a single paragraph.
- The Mortal Instruments devolves into this in the later books, due to the introduction of numerous point of view characters with each their own subplot, and most of them showing up in every chapter. Something as simple as driving out of town to get a healing salve takes up a fourth of a book even though no obstacle presents itself.
- A rare comedic version was Seinfeld. A typical episode saw three or four separate plots, each involving one of the four main characters. It being a comedy, these different plot-lines would typically come together at the end of every episode, in a single hilarious scene uniting all the disparate stories.
- The format is such that you have multiple characters with powers dealing with the day to day implications and difficulties thereof. Their troubles can grow to be so isolated and insular it's a wonder they interact at all. Occasionally, these characters do meet and then go on their way due to a strange kind of "fate interconnectedness" (a bit of a show theme).
- The third season has everyone's complicated stories and bloodlines interconnected to the point where trying to comprehend it all is a leading cause of aneurysms.
- Basically, when Heroes is good, you get Two Lines, No Waiting, occasionally dipping into Third Line, Some Waiting. When it gets bad, it jumps into "everything happens at once and nothing makes sense." Basically, Third Line, Some Waiting is a tightrope that easily lets you fall into Four Lines, All Waiting.
- A common complaint of Star Trek: Voyager Season Two. You had the Maquis vs. Starfleet plot, Kazon/Seska plots, Paris pretending to be a jerk to get thrown off, is there another Caretaker out there, etc. A key factor of Better on DVD.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does this a lot, especially near the end, with the Breen joining the war, the Changeling virus, Dukat and Kai Winn trying to release the Pah-Wraiths, the uprising on Cardassia, and Gowron's last days as the Klingon chancellor.
- May possibly have killed Drive. Unless it was the overall lack of planning.
- Orphan Black spends a lot of time establishing the inner lives of its characters. You have Sarah's life, Sarah-as-Beth's life, Alison's life, Cosima's life, Helena's life, around the fringes the lives of the supporting characters and the actual events of the plot itself. The show is quickly approaching Loads and Loads of Characters.
- Law & Order attempted this in Season Eight, with all six major characters getting a personal subplot:
- Adam Schiff's re-election fight.
- Jack McCoy's ethics charges stemming from his actions in "Under The Influence" (s8e11). There was some overlap with Schiff's re-election as his opponent was the judge who threatened to report McCoy to the Disciplinary Committee.
- Jamie Ross' custody fight with her ex-husband.
- Anita Van Buren's discrimination lawsuit against the department, and the department's retaliation against her squad (one episode opened with Briscoe and Curtis working a jaywalking sting).
- Lennie Briscoe's turmoil with his daughter - an ex-junkie turned state's witness.
- Rey Curtis' martial strife, stemming from the one-night stand he had in "Aftershock"
- The one or two episodes prior to a Lost season finale have multiple groups of characters setting out on the lines that will blow up in a BIG way during the thrill-a-minute final (2-hour-long) episode. Each group makes some progress, but the payoffs are deferred.
- Subverted in Farscape in its third season by splitting John Crichton into two people, and then sending each copy on a different ship with part of the crew. For much of the season, episodes alternated between the two crews, allowing the show to more manageably juggle episodic and arc plots. Ironically, the copy of John Crichton involved in the more arc-oriented episodes was the one who didn't survive.
- Played more straight in Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, since it was the fifth season distilled into a four-hour mini-series. It still worked, but at times the plot got very crowded.
- Passions left Soap Wheel for this. One plot would have supernatural goings on (usually involving Tabitha, Charity, Kay and Father Lonigan), another had potential incest or lesbianism somewhere along the line, a third plot had Theresa and Gwen (and their parents) plotting against each other for Ethan, Plot #4 would have been about Alistair Crane's machinations. The end result was that conversations that would have lasted minutes ended up lasting hours.
- This is how the show The Wire works. Usually, storylines will be hinted at in an episode at the beginning of the season and won't start to bear fruit until near the end. Sometimes they're hinted at in one season and start to pick up in another season. This is done surprisingly well and never really feels disorienting because you need to pay very close attention anyway to enjoy the show. The trope also grew progressively more emphatic as the series went on. If you read episode summaries on The Other Wiki, the fourth-season summaries, for instance, are about five times longer than the first-season summaries.
- Also the case with producer David Simon's later show, Treme. For instance, the season 2 premiere, with the job of getting us up to speed on what had been going on since the year-long Time Skip, was only able to give each character two or three scenes.
- There are so many concurrent plotlines in every episode of True Blood that, combined with their fairly extensive cast, it usually takes half a season to get anything done in any of the plotlines or any of the characters. While the show started with only two plots, each season added new cast members then gave them their own subplots, not matter how pointless and unrelated to vampires they were. It gets ridiculous by season 5, with such a multitude of plotlines that have very minimal interaction with each other that it's hard to say which one is actually supposed to be the main plot. Probably best illustrated by the restaurant/bar Merlotte's where most of the cast work, by season 6 the whole place is run by two waitresses and the two cooks, even the owner of the place is gone.
- Desperate Housewives. Typically each of the four main characters will have their own storyline, plus the ongoing mystery arc of each season. The Fauxlosophic Narration always tries to connect them thematically, but this is usually very strained.
- On Sex and the City, each of the four female leads would typically have a separate story. Often the only place the stories intersected was when the girls would meet for lunch and talk about stuff.
- Oz had Loads and Loads of Characters who had to be served in every episode. Creator Tom Fontana has said that he wrote each storyline for a season separately, then wove them together to create the actual scripts. Sometimes in the process he would discover that he was using a character in one storyline several episodes after the character was killed off in another.
- Degrassi has a lot of this, though the characters may cross over into each other's storylines.
- The West Wing does this constantly, to the point that it can be difficult to care when the fourth or fifth plot of an episode is introduced in the 20th minute.
- Game of Thrones:
- Based on A Song of Ice and Fire as mentioned in the literature section, it naturally runs into this. It's not so bad in season one where there's only three major storylines to keep track of (King's Landing, the Wall, and the Dothraki), but season two attracted some heavy criticism for its pacing issues; suddenly many more characters have their own individual storylines, to the point that the show has to leave one or two out of every single episode, or just give them one scene that comes out of nowhere and leaves just as fast. The second-to-last episode of the season was widely praised because it devoted all of its fifty minutes to the Battle of Blackwater, with no cutaway scenes at all.
- Season three improves by the crew showing more confidence in leaving out several storylines entirely from each episode.
- As of the end of Season 4, the series is currently following the Lannisters and Tyrells at court in King's Landing, Stannis' court at Castle Black, Daenerys' court in Meereen, Tyrion and Varys bound across the sea, Jon and Sam with the Night's Watch, Sansa and Littlefinger in the Vale, Arya bound for Braavos, Bran and his companions with the three-eyed raven, Brienne and Podrick in the Riverlands, and Roose, Ramsay, and Reek at Winterfell. Naturally, the finale of Season 5 involved resolving or wiping out several of these ongoing plots in one episode.
- Season 6 eliminated even more with massive amounts of character death (even for a show known for Anyone Can Die) and new alliances, consolidating the show so Season 7 can return to the familiar "King's Landing - the North/Wall - Daenerys" structure of the first season.
- CSI usually sticks to two, occasionally three lines per episode, but they did one or two episodes like this. "4x4" was the most notable, even the name implies it.
- Sense8 has 8 protagonists all over the world, each of them having their own independent storyline (give or take psychic links and Myth Arc connections).
- Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp has Beth trying to save the camp from toxic waste, an Evil Corporation and Ronald Reagan, Gene and Gail's on-again-off-again wedding plans, the Katie/Andy/Blake Love Triangle and rivalry with Camp Tigerclaw, Victor and Neil's virginity-losing bet, the Ben/Susie/Claude/McKinley Love Quadrangle and Coming-Out Story, Lindsay's undercover investigation, the Coop/Donna/Yaron Love Triangle, and Kevin's attempts to fit in and impress Love Interest Amy under Coop's tutelage. And that's just the major plotlines, all crammed into only eight episodes, most of which are introduced in the first episode and few of which find any closure before the last. As a comedy, it all works out fairly well, with most scenes playing out as short vignettes or sketches that are enjoyable without much consideration for whether they do much to advance their associated plotline.
- Life in Pieces, rather than intercutting between plotlines, has each episode made up of four distinct shorts, each focusing on one of the main couples. Although characters often appear in each other's plots, which regularly overlap with each other due to setting or timing of events.
- Happens in the first season of Luke Cage, where the four main villains—Cottonmouth, Black Mariah, Shades, and Diamondback—all had their own plotlines that did not always directly affect Luke's. Cottonmouth, seen as the most compelling of the villains, doesn't even die by Luke's hand, but is killed by Mariah. And Shades never even meets Luke in the entire season. Granted, this is arguably justified because all four of them are normal humans whereas Luke has Super Strength and Nigh-Invulnerability, so any direct fight would have ended very badly for them. This is the reason Diamondback's plot involved finding means to kill him.
- Dear White People: The first 5 or so episodes concern the blackface party and the different reactions of the various characters, but eventually the show moves on to other topics while retaining each episode's focus on one character.
- Doonesbury has been running with this trope for the last 30 years. It was originally focused on a group of college kids living together in a commune, and only occasionally strayed from that setting. But in the mid-80's, creator Garry Trudeau decided to abandon the Sliding Timescale and have the cast graduate. All of them moved to different parts of the country and took on different jobs and roles. Rather than abandon any of the characters, Trudeau continued to focus on ALL of them, switching between their various plotlines from week to week. As new characters were introduced, many of them would also strike out on their own and be given storylines. It's gotten to the point where a reader could follow the strip for years without having any idea what many of these characters have to do with each other. Lampshaded in one strip where Zonker asks why anyone would read this comic strip when "most 18th century Russian novels are more comprehensible."
- The Magic: The Gathering tie-in novel Alara Unbroken switches between a bunch of different threads, following Ajani Goldmane, Nicol Bolas, Rakka Mar, Gwafa Hazid, Sarkhan Vol, Elspeth Tirel, Mayael the Anima, Marisi, a group of Vithian refugees...
- Averting this trope is one of the major reasons why GMs (as opposed to players, who have their own reasons) prefer to never split the party.
- Depending on how you count it, Into the Woods has at least four or more plot threads running at the same time throughout the entirety of Act One. By the climax, some have been resolved, but the rest converge into a single thread to finish the play.
- BIONICLE, so so much. In the final year of story, there was Marendar trying to kill the biomechanicals (which is about 90% of the cast), Kopaka and Pohatu being stuck in orbit with a character who had been presumed dead for years, and also investigating a murder mystery, Lewa being captured by tribesmen, the golden being becoming a godlike entity, the Toa Mahri being his slaves, the Great Beings looking for a way to stop a disaster, a Gelu and three Toa looking for said Great Beings but being caught by a savage tribe, and another mystery regarding a Great Being masquerading as well-known character. These are just the new unfinished plot-lines. Older ones include the Mask of Time being stolen by Voporak, Vezon and a rag-tag bunch of ultra-powerful characters meeting a Great Being, and that's not even counting all the minor but still ongoing stories. And Bioniclestory.com was shut down right as the story was being wrapped up. Yes, this is how the story ends.
- The Subspace Emissary in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. There are at least 8 threads (maybe 10, depending on how you interpret things), with some characters jumping between threads willy-nilly, and until the band starts coming together halfway through there's no way to know which events are happening alongside each other.
- Dragon Quest IV is split into five chapters. The first four chapters each take place at roughly the same time, each focusing on different character(s) that will accompany the hero in the final chapter. Many players believe that the game only truly begins with the final chapter.
- Halo, particularly if you count its expanded universe. Halo 3 in particular had a lot on its plate; there's the mystery of the Halo Installations, the Covenant civil war, the Covenant war with humans, the Flood, and whatever Gravemind was speaking about Cortana. What makes it worse is that pretty much every line except the first is finished off so quickly and quietly they all seem like D-plots.
- Yakuza adores this trope, from the very first game. Sub-plots are constantly clashing into each other and everything you knew as the player is constantly being turned upside down. The amazing part is that the games actually handle it well.
- The most common complaint about Charby the Vampirate. Largely a side-effect of having Loads and Loads of Characters. In fact, over a dozen characters live together in a single house, all of whom have their own plotlines. It's no surprise that a single party storyline took two years to tell.
- Irregular Webcomic!, by virtue of being composed of many unrelated, very loosely related themes, each with a different cast.
- The Mansion of E has currently, after 7 years of running, the main plotline of 2 of the 3 first characters, the line of the 3rd first character, the 6 or so lines of the various side cast, one line to rotate between new characters or events, and one that shows up every Sunday and is almost totally unrelated to the rest besides being set in the same universe. So yeah, it's pretty much all waiting, even when your favored characters show up again.
- Homestuck focuses on one character - or, sometimes, one entire facet of the Geodesic Cast - at a time. Every character has a storyline, and all the storylines are hopelessly tangled together in space as well as in time. The sheer number of characters and tendency to switch the point of view at inappropriate times doesn't help much either.
- Ménage à 3 sometimes heads in this direction. It ended up cross-cutting fairly wildly between four locations and sets of characters at the start of volume 6 (strip #751 onwards).
- See also Something*Positive — though S*P is more of a Cast Herd.
- xkcd is not an example of this trope, but does attempt to model it here.
- In El Goonish Shive, the Hold On Hope storyline was like this. Lampshaded in this 2005 sketch, which shows Dan's Author Avatar looking lost while holding a map with various plotlines on it, including then-current ones like "Uniforms"; ones that it would take him a while to get to like "Noah" (whose next appearance was in 2010); and ones like "Lord Tedd" which have been on the backburner ever since.
- Schlock Mercenary finished an arc which was itself part of a bigger arc during which the Toughs were split into four commands; each command got it's own arc, and arcs after the first would occasionally have a caption stating where, temporally, these events were taking place relative to the event that ended the larger meta-arc. It took well over a year, and this is a daily comic.
- Girl Genius gets like this from time to time, but only maintains B- and C-plots that will tie back into the broader Myth Arc eventually.
- The "Don't Split Up the Party" storyline of The Order of the Stick. Once the party splits up - we follow Elan, Durkon and Vaarsuvius on the ship with refugees from Azure City, Haley and Belkar leading the resistance in Azure City, Roy being dead and O-Chul being Redcloak's prisoner, not to mention few lesser subplots. Then you have Roy still in the afterlife, Vaarsuvius seeking the ultimate power, Durkon and Elan escaping with the Azure City fleet, and Haley dealing with the fractured remains of the rest of the Order, which consisted of just Belkar, with Celie tagging along.
- Goblins is following three teams simultaneously - Goblin Adventuring Party (Complains, Ears, Fumbles, Chief and Thaco), Human Adventuring Party (Minmax, Forgath and Kin) and party send into the Well of Darkness (Dies Horribly, Saves A Fox, Klik, Grem, and K'Seliss or Biscuit).
- This is one of the Problems of S.S.D.D, having four major plots (two in the present and two in the future) and many minor ones which make the series seem far away from completion despite being one of the oldest Web Comics Long-Runners.
- Iji the MSPA Fan Adventure use this formula for the multiple simultaneous devastating demented sub-plots involving involving secondary characters and crossovers.
- Hero Oh Hero has three protagonists, each with their own, independent, storylines. It deals with this by switching focus every chapter (so the first chapter introduces Burk's Quixotic adventures in the wilderness, the second follows Noah's life in Gloria, the third follows Tobi setting off on a Dungeon Crawl and continues in that cycle).
- Sinfest has slowly but surely become a great example of this trope. At first it was just a daily strip which rarely had any sort of storyline, much less a serious storyline, though there was the occasional arc of comics, but nothing serious. As time went on, Tats (the artist/writer) started to include more lengthy and meatier plots that were legitimately serious in nature, but usually he was focused on just that one plot alone. The most famous and celebrated Sinfest storyline being the romance between the devil girl Fuchsia and the human nerd Criminy that took up most of the strip's issues, but it had a clear beginning, middle, and end. As more time went on and Tats put in more world building for the setting and more backstory for the characters, many plotlines have started, many of which are going to this very day. Now Sinfest has an absurd amount of ongoing plots, some of which just pop in and get dropped, some new ones joining into the mix, and many of which started years ago and seem to have no end in sight. For example, Lil E gained amnesia and is slowly regaining his memories and the audience are learning more about his past, which was given some backstory in strips way before the amnesia. Lil E got amnesia in 2011, and his mysterious past has been hinted at many times before, but five years passed with Lil E only slightly closer to learning about himself than he was when the plot started, plus there are hints of a connection with a totally different character, Vainglorious, who himself has his own mess of plotlines.
- The Whateley Universe is such a Loads and Loads of Characters 'verse that there are something like two dozen main characters and shedloads of side characters. Even with a new story (or chapter) coming out weekly right now, we can go months and months without seeing a new scene about our favorite character.
- Arguably the low point of the series, The Descendants spent two months on a story arc called War Machines, which meandered through various pieces of plot such as Juniper's Samaritan Syndrome, Liedecker's past, the return of some old villains, and a some teasing of the relationship between two characters. It entered head-against wall territory when it turns out that the entire arc was just setting up future arcs. In a series that has taken months to revisit some arcs.
- The Nostalgia Chick's opinion of Spice World: "Does it have a plot? No! But it does have at least four subplots, each one more painfully useless than the last." She noted a similar pattern in The Babysitters Club movie.
- Equestria Chronicles has numerous "permenant" characters as well as quite a few fringe characters who update sporadically.
- The Irate Gamer seems to be falling into an unfocused plot. In his Cool Spot review, his Evil Twin manages to steal his Mangavox Odyssey and create robots based on the HAL AI in it. The RoboCop review sees the return of R.O.B. from his Stack-Up and Gyromite review, this time as an ally who was sent out to destroy the invading HAL robots. His He-Man review was promoted as the "Robot War Aftermath", but the war was ignored, focusing instead on the Irate Gamer obtaining a "Sword of Inferno" from a monk. His Silver Surfer review actually dealt with the aftermath of the robot war, but also introduced an Eldritch Abomination called the Pixel Demon, which was released after the Silver Surfer game was beaten.
- To Boldly Flee evolves from the Three Lines, Some Waiting of predecessor Suburban Knights to various concurrent plots.
- H+ might as well be the poster child of this trope. Short 2-5 minute episodes + Loads and Loads of Characters + Anachronic Order = No idea what's going on. And you know your show is hard to follow when you have to annotate your episodes just so there's some semblance of explanation as to what's going on.
- RWBY in Volume 4. Due to the events of Volume 3, the titular team has been separated and the show is dealing with the four in different plots - Ruby and the remains of Team JNPR trying to find Cinder to get back at her for the destruction of Vale, Weiss being stuck in her home in Atlas with her abusive father, Blake running away with Sun Wukong joining her, and Yang and her father Taiyang trying to get the former to get out of her depression.
- The American Dad! episode "Finances with Wolves" has Francine starting a muffin kiosk at the mall, Stan giving Klaus a human body, Hayley caught up in a group of hippies that want to tear down said mall, Steve and his friends seeing a scary werewolf movie, and Roger adopting a wolf that causes trouble for an unsuspecting Steve. However, despite having five or six seperate plot threads, the episode manages to juggling them by making them all highly interwoven. For example, the start of Hayley's story (land development drives the local wildlife away) causes a critical moment in Steve's story (Steve gets attacked by a wolf), which is heavily connected to Roger's story. Similarly, Klaus, Stan, and Francine ultimately all have the same story, but they begin at seperate points. Also, most of the stories resolve themselves in a single location.
- The point of the Futurama episode "300 Big Boys," which follows several main and supporting characters spending a tax rebate. In the conclusion, Leela remarks that "At least we got a few mildly interesting stories out of it."
Bender: Alright! Closure!!!
- At the end, Bender bemoans that his story petered out without a lesson learned. Then the two cops burst on the scene and start beating him with laser nightsticks, prompting Bender to joyfully conclude his story thread.
- "The Prisoner of Benda" follows a similar scheme, when a mind switching machine causes various characters to end up in each other's bodies. The threads connect when characters need to switch bodies (for various reasons) but otherwise run separately until near the end.
- Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation has a ton of plot threads and vignettes: Plucky tagging along with Hampton's family on a road trip to Happy World Land, Buster and Babs's escalating water-gun fight leading to them rafting down a river, Fifi Le Fume trying to get an autograph from her favorite actor, etc. Lampshade Hanging occurs with a Credits Gag listing possible morals for the story, which includes "Feature length movies should not have 18 different plots."
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has a few episodes where each of the Mane Six have their own synchronous plot lines, such as in "The Best Night Ever", "Castle Mane-ia", and "Trade Ya!".
- The Beatles cartoon "Paperback Writer" has each of the boys submitting a story to the publishing firm of Dot, Blot and Clot as to how the group got together. Ringo's and Paul's visualizations (Ringo as a Shakespearean actor with the others as struggling musicians, Paul a scientist with the others as his guinea pigs) are narrated by them; George's and John's (George as a secret agent with the others as enemy agents, John as a WWI pilot with the others as enemy pilots) are set to the song.
- Every episode of Pig Goat Banana Cricket follows this formula.
- The Christmas Episode of Justice League was structured like this, though the writers apparently didn't have room to squeeze in a plot-line for Batman and Wonder Woman. Then again, the two of them being off-screen - with Batman explicitly said to be on monitor duty - carries its own implications...
- All Hail King Julien: Exiled takes the shift from the previous seasons' episodic comedy to serialized dramedy and goes all in, featuring 13 episodes following King Julien, Clover and Mort all making their own efforts to free the kingdom from Koto, giving equal time to each group in each episode up until the end when they all converge.