ISWG: Trying To Do Too Much (Or Weaving Too Many Threads in Your Novel)

When I posed my last chapter to my critique group, I really wasn't quite sure how it would be reviewed. I was pleased to receive mostly good comments on it, but then a recurring comment occurred: the scene did a lot--possibly too much.

I know this novel I'm working on has a lot of threads (i.e. subplots). So many so that I have deliberately removed some threads that are less important to the story I want to tell. But it's led me to an interesting line of thought, and that is: how many threads are too many?

Say the chapter is 3000 words, one setting, essentially one long scene or two medium-sized scenes. Does tackling three or four subplots in that chapter constitute as "too many threads?" I don't know if there's a right answer here, but it's something that I've been thinking about. The last thing I want to do is pull my reader in too many directions at once, and I've been working on having all my scenes pull double-duty. I don't want a scene in my novel to only do one thing--even if I love the way it's written, every scene must do at least two things or it ends up on the cutting table. 

So, a part of me was thinking (before receiving feedback), that I was really making these scenes work and I was kicking butt in making my scenes do double-, triple-, even quadruple-duty. Then the comments came back, and although they weren't negative in the sense that it was too difficult to follow or even that my scene was divided, they made me consider: where is the point when a scene tries to do too much?

Now I find myself reconsidering each scene, wondering if it's not doing enough or if it's doing too much. I certainly don't want my reader overwhelmed, but I also don't want them underwhelmed. In some ways, I feel overwhelming them is better than underwhelming them, but then again... It seems that this may be one of those things that requires a delicate balance best determined by experience.