Lately on Our Write Side, I’ve been exploring the question “when is enough, enough?” I wrote two companion articles, and the second one focuses on subplots. Here’s a quick intro, or you can skip ahead and read the full article.
“Sub” means “under”, so a subplot is a plot line of your book that occurs underneath the main events of your story. Some books and genres get by just fine with only one plot. This is especially true if you are writing for a younger audience and you are worried about them getting lost. Or, if you have an extremely intricate main plot, you may be worried about piling too much on even an adult reader.
However, chances are you will need more than one thing going on within a story to hit all of the beats and make your story feel full. At minimum, Blake Snyder suggests the “B Story” in his beat sheet, which is the relationship that is the most important to the protagonist and often carries the theme of the story. Romantic subplots are extremely common across genres, but that isn’t the only type of relationship that can play a starring role in a subplot. In a romance, the subplots could be basically anything else that is happening the frames the romantic relationship and causes additional conflict.
Keep in mind you should NEVER pile on extra fluff to reach a higher word count. Readers, potential publishers, and agents hate that. Each of your subplots must serve a higher purpose and be integrated into your plot arc, your character’s arc, and/or the reader’s experience of your story.
If you want to find out more about the 7 reasons to add a subplot I identified, along with advice for instituting your changes, check out the full article on Our Write Side.
I fully agree, subplots are vital. Of course, I write adventure stuff, and I find that if the hero can give his full attention to the main crisis it’s hard to challenge him sufficiently to display his true heroism, so my subplots tend to take the form of distractions that can’t be ignored. My analogy is that I try to make it impossible for him to focus on the wolf at the door because there’s a rat gnawing at his ankle, but I couldn’t imagine trying to shoehorn one in after you’ve finished the novel. Be smart, and plan your subplot from the beginning as an integral part of the overall work. It will be much better in the end!
Planning from the outset is certainly the best, but not everyone is a planner or has an innate sense their story needs more until later. In my case, I was taking two novellas and putting them together and discovered I needed an additional subplot to pull the two halves into a whole, so the article is my experience with the less-than-ideal situation I faced.
Ah, yes, I see. I have thought once or twice about doing something similar with a couple of my unpublished stories, but it never went beyond thinking about it; I tip my begoggled patrol cap to you for making that work, and having the courage to try it.
Submitted for your consideration, and a possible future blog post, should it suggest itself: We are all planners; some of us call our outlines “first drafts.”
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Yeah, it was a massive undertaking that is not for the faint of heart! lol.
That’s a great idea for a blog post 🙂 Maybe I’ll add that to my Our Write Side schedule… Thanks!