Tracking Subplots + Why Go That Far?

Okay, we know we want to have subplots. But if we have several, how should we keep track of it all?

From my reading, everyone has their own method of tracking subplots, although, they do seem to have one thing in common and that’s a gird. Here’s one example of how JK Rowling does it. Other approaches include using index cards, whiteboards, spreadsheets, or storyboards. All attempting to organize and keep the subplots clear in the writer’s mind as they write. And for your downloading pleasure, I also found a link to Subplot Tracker Worksheet.


Examine your method and follow each plot/subplot from beginning to end. The subplots can be assigned colors to track them at a glance. The color also serves another purpose. It makes monitoring the balance of subplots and keeping them relatively equal, unless you’ve decided one is supposed to be larger/smaller. As you read in my previous post Subplots Add Character: Here’s How + Subplots and Why We Need Them.

There are two main reasons why planning is key.

One, subplots need a beginning, middle and end. Now, I don’t mean they start at the beginning of the book and end near the end. They can start and end anytime during the story or series. What I am reporting is they can’t be abandoned or forgotten.

Subplots contain their own questions

The subplot must live on, finish up, or in extreme cases, and this is the only time that I’m good with this, end in a cliff hanger. All questions must be addressed by the end of the storyline. Some questions that come up are: will the romance continue, is forgiveness possible, will past mistakes haunt a character indefinitely, did the purse snatcher get caught? Whatever it may be, don’t leave it dangling.

And two, subplots need to directly interact with the main plot. If for some reason the subplot doesn’t interfere, complicate, or interact with the plot it needs to be removed. Having a method to check, and double check that the subplot has purpose in the novel is paramount. Just like a scene, it needs its place in the overall story.

All mistakes can be fixed. When it comes to fixing subplots, or complicated story lines; think of what toppling, or removing, a domino in a delicate and detailed design. Everything might be fine until it hits the gap, then everything stops or goes in the wrong direction.

That is not what I want to try to fix. What about you? Have you methods that brought success, or mistakes you’d like us all to avoid. Be sure to share in the comments. πŸ™‚


28 responses to “Tracking Subplots + Why Go That Far?

  1. I include my subplot in my mini-outline and take notes along the way so I don’t leave a plot hole. I will check out the tracker worksheet. Sounds great!

  2. Oh gosh subplots! I always wondered how authors kept track of everything they write, from foreshadowing to the actual events and details. Who would have thought there would be so much that took place in order to write a book! Which, is probably why I am not a writer. I would seriously screw it all up. πŸ˜›

  3. Outlining? I knew I was forgetting something. πŸ˜‰ Usually I pants the first draft and then mark out all plots in the revision stage. I agree subplots definitely have to interact with the main plot.

  4. As a reader I notice if these subplots disappear and it makes me pull my hair out.

  5. Good worksheet. Thanks for sharing. Evan Marshall has a good one in his book also.

  6. It is easy to throw in subplots to move the story along, but we have to remember that they are THEN a part of the story. Thanks for this reminder.

  7. My WIP is the most word count I have ever done. Tearing my hair out trying to balance the sub-plots and main plot and keeping everything straight– murder, romance, paranormal all in one book. whew. This worksheet will be very helpful. I want to color code the plots, but how do I do that? List the chapters and color them? I don’t have scrivener. I do have a pile of index cards with a chapter and scenes per each card. Maybe that’s the way to do it? I dunno. All suggestions are welcome.

  8. I haven’t really tried tracking subplots in this way. I tend to let them have a life of their own, then come back later and make them fit into the story. Probably not an elegant solution, but it’s the way my mind works. We’ll see if that changes in the future. Good luck with the revisions.

  9. Great advice. I’ll admit, I don’t do well with spreadsheet, although I do keep giving them a try. My subplots always tie into the main plot, and I do make sure the problem within them is solved, or at least addressed, by the end of the book.

  10. I’m increasingly impressed by the amount of work writers go to to create a great book.

  11. This is cool. I never really thought about organizing my subplots, but I can see that would help.

  12. Great worksheet, Anna. Like Cherie, my subplots always relate directly to my primary plot, so they’re hard for me to forget. I can’t resolve the main plot without resolving the subplots first. Part of the fun of storytelling for me is creating a subplot that seems unrelated but will eventually fit into the main storyline. It’s kind of a puzzle, and I think readers enjoy that.

    VR Barkowski

  13. You make it sound simple and I do love subplots.

    sherry @ fundinmental

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

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