Sub-plottin’

Life doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and neither should your character’s life. Novels should be populated with realistic people who have backgrounds, hidden baggage, skeletons in the closet–all the cliches that make “life” life and dictate personality development. Secondary and minor characters’ lives affect your MC’s life, make it more interesting and give it depth. Weaving life into your story world is one of the purposes of subplots.

Subplots add a sense of community to your setting–a sense of life going on, surrounding your character, involving her, occurring while she does other things, complicating or enhancing her plans.  They add depth to your story and are created for a variety of purposes. Jessica Page Morrell’s article “Adding Depth to Your Story Through Subplots” (Writer’s Digest, March/April 2013) gives several reasons to include subplots in your work.

Pat and Talon interviewIn Give the Lady a Ride, Marie and Chance are the main characters in the subplot. Since they’re secondary characters, much of what developed between them occurs behind the scenes. They rapidly fell head over heels for each other, which served as a strong contrast to both Talon’s and Patricia’s (the main characters) reluctance to walk that line again. It also served as the catalyst to getting those two together. Marie’s behind-the-scenes conversion prompted Patricia to think about her own relationship with the Lord. The secondary characters impact the main characters, but they have a relationship and a story history of their own.

Corporate LadderThe subplot in my work-in-progress, Corporate Ladder, serves a different purpose. One of the things I need to do with Debra Chandler is to show her becoming driven, obsessed with earning more, climbing higher, gaining more power. So far, I’ve told her story entirely through her POV, and I can continue to show her personality change this way. But to enhance the illustration, to show how her obsession affects others, I decided to develop a subplot. The events in the subplot occur entirely behind the scenes and have little to do with her directly. Early in the novel, these events will seem inconsequential, but as the story continues, the reader will be able to see how sharply Debra has changed by how she reacts them.

I just recently realized how perfectly a subplot would work in Corporate Ladder, and since I’m an SOTP writer, I have to go back through and begin the weaving process to get it in and begin developing it. That’s an important thing to remember about subplots: you want them well woven so when they smack into the main plot, they’ll be natural and expected. They can’t exist simply for the purpose of propping up your word count. They have to serve a purpose and enhance the story line somehow. Like Morrell said in her article, “If a subplot can be removed without creating a hole in the story, it is not needed.”

It’s good to know exactly where to begin your subplot, how to develop it at a pace that best benefits the main plot, when to present its impact on the main character, and when to bring it to a conclusion. The more subplots you have, the more you have to keep up with the strings you’ll need to tie off later–but the more depth you’ll have to your novel.

And we all want our novels to have more depth!

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in Writing, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Sub-plottin’

  1. hopeclark says:

    I simply adore subplots, Linda. I cannot imagine a story without one, or two. They bring life to the character, making her realistic because goodness knows we all have subplots going on in our lives! It’s why I gave my mystery protagonist children, and I don’t write cozies. I like life messy.

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  2. K.M. Weiland says:

    I loved Chance and Marie. I’m still hoping you’ll write a sequel about them.

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  3. Harliqueen says:

    Great post. I do like sub-plots, unless they take over the story, which happens when I write sometimes 😀

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  4. I look at sub-plots as being a back story which runs throughout the storyline and includes a major flashback at one point. This is what’s I’ve got going on in one of my WIPs, an adult Contemporary with a paranormal element running through the storyline entitled “His Darkest Secret.” Sub-plots I feel add another level to the major plot and helps to keep the readers interested in what’s happing.

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    • Linda Yezak says:

      Back story and subplots are two different things. The back story is essentially “historical” and the subplot generally occurs within the same time frame of the main plot. I suppose a back story could be a subplot, but their functions are usually different.

      Anyway, good luck with your new WIP!

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  5. Ah yes, subplots. They do add a lot of fun to a story, for both the reader and the writer. In my published work, there were subplots galore, all intricately woven into the main story and all leading to the main conclusion, like doors suddenly closing, forcing the heroine down an ever narrowing tunnel. Great confirmation on the importance of those, Linda. Thank you.

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