Subplots and Why We Need Them

So for a while now I’ve been posting writing tips when I feel I’ve mostly mastered them. I’ll share what I’ve learned and share so the squeaky new writer can read my posts (along with others) rather than starting from scratch. I did the starting-from-scratching thing and it was hard; mostly because, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And the list was a long one.

Now I’m in the middle of my writing adventure (career) and it looks very similar to the middle of the three-act-structure. What I’m getting at is that ‘the middle’ is the biggest section. Anyway, I’m in the middle. I know somethings and still need to learn a lot about the craft. Some days I think I’ll never get out of the middle and I’m mostly okay with that. But each time I make a discovery I pursue it and store it away for reference.

Today I researched Subplots.

Also check out: Backstory: Past Events Build Character +Β Subplots Add Character: Here’s How + Tracking Subplots and Why We Go So Far

Here’s why

I have only written shorts for publication. So how to do I jump from shorts to full length novels?

Add more words.

Right, but isn’t the main plot defined as a protag striving for a goal and antag attempting to stop him.

If this is true, and I believe it is, how do I add more words without bogging the story down?

Incorporate subplots.

What are subplots?

Before I researched, I thought they were secondary plotlines based on the supporting characters.

This is true, but there is so much more.

When you read a series, the subplot is what links the books togetherβ€”common characters, location, or events. Additional plotlines humanize the characters by giving them their own character arc. They can clarify motivations, deepen tension, and interfere or complicate the protag achieving their goal.

If plot is a section of fence, the subplots are the vine(s) that grow upon it. Together they are stronger, more vines, more color, more intertwined action. It can be beautiful from afar and very complex under closer scrutiny. This apparently makes for a great novel.

Easy peasy? I don’t know, but I have a general idea of what I need to do. Is there anything you’d like to add? I’m all ears, and would love to hear from you.

36 responses to “Subplots and Why We Need Them

  1. While I already knew what they were, your painting of picture of what they should LOOK like is brilliant!!

    The main thing for me with subplots in novels and a series – MAKING SURE YOU TIE UP THOSE LOOSE ENDS!! That’s why I’m a planner, not a pantster. I make note of all those subplots, and make sure they also get their climax / conclusion – even if it’s a quiet, non-WHAT THE FRIG! sentence or two.

    Great food for thought, Em!!!

  2. Its funny isn’t how many people will say to you, oh I could write a book if I had the time, little knowing it’s not just throwing a few words down on a piece of paper. It’s so much more complicated and more work than you could ever believe. A great post.

  3. Love your analogy. And you are right. Subplots are important, but they can’t just jump from nowhere. If they are relevant to the story they will have the biggest impact. I just wrote a two-part post on pacing. I’d love to hear what you think.

  4. Excellent post. I started by writing a novel. I don’t have your experience of doing plenty of shorts without all the added richness of subplots to move the story. In my mind, I don’t think of them as “sub” at all. To me, all the threads of the tapestry weave together to create the whole.

  5. Subplots are great for novels, or even novellas. There’s a subplot in 30 Seconds involving Dani’s memory. πŸ˜‰ Subplots can add something more to any story. The important thing is to remember the subplot and to bring it to a close as you bring the bigger plot to a close.

  6. Well said, Anna. You put it in words that make it simple for me to understand. I look forward reading any of your work. I have enjoyed your shorts and would love to check out a novel of yours. Keep on writing!!! Thanks so much for another post to add to my writing file. It just dawned on me that I approach writing reviews in the same way as a novel. Sometimes they can be a short story in themselves. Have a good one.

  7. As a reader, I love the different subplots, as long as they don’t deter from the main story thread.I think they add more depth, and certainly engage me as the reader. Lovely post Anna!

    • Thanks, Kim. I need this info to help figure out how to incorporate these lovely little items. The goal one day is to write strong stories that take a persons breath away. πŸ™‚

  8. I like that metaphor to illustrate subplots. Also, they give depths to characters, and a backstory.

  9. Good summative on subplots. I know they’re important. Why oh why do I keep forgetting them?

  10. I think power subplotting really just comes in giving your secondary characters full life. If they’re completely fleshed out, the subplots will evolve organically.

  11. Good post, Anna. I’ve had secondary characters with their own thing going on in one story and then developed their situation in another novel of their own.

  12. So subplots are like having friends or enemies around that don’t have to do with main story line? It sounds like if a story is about romance you should put in a sister bond that makes sure you are focusing not only on the romance part but something else too. I wouldn’t know what you could add because I don’t know what kind of story you are creating. And clearly I’ve never really tried to understand what a subplot is until now πŸ˜›

    • I know that the subplot must affect the plot in some way. It could add a complication to achieving the goal, or slow the progress of the protag/antag or/and add comic relief. Adding a sister would be good, or second suitor, or sister and second suitor that distract protag from from love interest.

      Right now I’m figuring out the bones of using a subplot, so when I incorporate the element I can do with some skill. Let’s hope it isn’t too awkward the first time round.

      Thanks for your input, Adrianna.

  13. You explained it easy peasy, but I have an idea it’s anything but to write a book, even a short one. I’ll be waiting for your next story and be happy to read it, short or long:)

  14. Very true, and I like the vine analogy. ^_^ One thing I’ve found that works well for figuring out subplots is this: what else is going on in the characters’ lives when the main plot happens? Plots have a tendency to disrupt characters’ lives (as they should), so subplots can easily grow from whatever the characters aren’t dealing with because something else has been dumped in their laps. And it’s even better if everything somehow comes together at some point.

  15. jenniferbielman

    I swear I spend just as much time on subplots as I do main plots.

  16. Pingback: Subplots Add Character: Here’s How | Shout With Emaginette

  17. Pingback: Revision 2: Early Stages | Elements of Writing

  18. Pingback: Tracking Subplots + Why Go That Far? | elements of emaginette

  19. Pingback: Author Toolbox #1: Plotting, Sub-Plotting, and Series Threads | elements of emaginette

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