Category Archives: Supporting Cast

Subplots Add Character: Here’s How

Now that I know I need subplots in my story, where do I start?

I like to start by linking back to what I know already. You’ve read some of my posts on characterization—Backstory: Past Events Build Character + Subplots and Why We Need Them + Tracking Subplots and Why We Go So Far

Simple answer to incorporate a subplot, add a character with their own goals, and needs into the story. Let them interfere with the main character (eventually) causing complications that must be dealt with before the story can continue. I’m not referring to the antag. No, these characters are the protag’s friends, workmates, family, and worse yet—a friend of a friend of theirs. The goal is to bring as much real life into the plot as is reasonable.

Who lives their lives with only one thing going on? I have to deal with family, work, pets, my car, etc and still try to meet commitments. It is these little irritations that can be shared over coffee, making friends laugh or cry with you.

But remember adding a subplot is not about word count, it must have a purpose. Before writing a word, make sure the subplot pushes the story forward, interrelates, and adds tension to the overall plot. Subplot must make the story stronger.

Adding subplots through additional characters

The Past
One of the most common subplots is introducing the main character at a previous time of their life. This can be presented as a parallel story of how the MC faced a similar event or antagonist and failed, or it can fill in back story that clarifies motivation.

Branching Out
Another still involving the main character is, s/he is trying to do more than one thing at a time: like job hunting, getting ready to move, and visiting a loved one in the hospital. The main character is living up to others expectations, while also trying to meet their personal goals. This is where branching out to other supporting cast members can be introduced.

Parallel Roads
Another type of subplot is presented side by side (as above) but the characters involved art pixabay CC0 tigerdo not converge at the climax. One character still interferes with the other but from a distance, or unknowingly started a domino effect that complicates the main plot. If the plots do converge, it can be often or not with varying degrees of interference. When I think of this I think affair. Two wo/men never meet but both lives are affected by the others.

Bumping and Banging
Some subplots are almost as big as the main plot when you track the antag and protag slowly bumping into each other (like in a thriller) which inevitably leads to the climax of good against evil in a huge blow out. Chapter by chapter each player moves towards/away from the other attempting to meet their goals.

There are also parallel stories that eventually merge into the main plot and as a group of face the climax.

Theme Related (or The Story Line Continues)
Joy commented on my first blog about subplots. She brought up a very good point. Some characters have such a strong story line that they inspire a book of their own. In a romance series, it is very common to branch out from a group of characters, creating two new lovers and a new romance. In a mystery series, it’s the supporting cast that helps solve crime, or interferes with it, that become as important as the main character.

Just Passing Through
Occasionally there are guest characters that pop in and out of the story, adding a humanizing touch. Every character has a life s/he lives elsewhere; family and friends they love. Some of these characters come in at the beginning only to return at the resolution. Thinks of a purse snatcher that gets away, then much later the MC see them arrested as she rakes her lawn, adding a nice touch of satisfaction.

The Magnet
And finally, the character that brings two worlds together like the wealthy volunteer that helps at a free clinic, or a doctor that goes to a third-world country, or an adopted child brought in to a stable home after living on the street. Sometimes these characters are holders of secrets, of insights, of chaos and bring a new flavor.

I’m sure if we look around our everyday lives we’ll notice more characters we could incorporate. Have I missed anyone? Please share in the comments.


What ‘in Death’ Taught Me About Livening Up Character Arcs

The ‘in Death’ series is written by Nora Roberts under her pseudonym of J. D. Robb and has been my main reading focus for weeks now. I’ve hit the twenty-second of the forty-some Eve Dallas police procedurals.

The advantage of reading a series this long term is it makes subplots and supporting character arcs that much easier to see. Ms. Roberts doesn’t flesh out every supporting cast member to the same degree.  Some remain fairly static, some grow along with the main character and some help flesh out the main character.

Officer/Detective Peabody—is pulled from the street, upgraded to a homicide detective’s aide then slowly earns a position as a homicide detective and partner to the main character, Eve Dallas. So far, she has helped show how the police department has evolved, how they use the new policing methods in place, and how the average human being thrives in New York City in the 2050s.

Roarke—multi-billionaire that falls in love with Eve Dallas in the first book. He is a hard character to nail down, and is the main source of emotional conflict.  Adding a love life interferes with her investigations, breaks up the hard shell of a cop, and puts her into socially awkward situations.  He also shows how deeply she feels for the victims and how determined she is to find the killer. To the point of breaking the law when necessary and running herself down to the point of becoming ill.

Dr. Mira—forensic psychiatrist who moves from profiling killers to a good friend and mother figure. She helps show how Eve walks in the shoes of the killer and how deeply she understands the murderer. With Dr. Mira the reader learns about Eve’s horrific past that has scarred her beyond repair.

Because of the series size the supporting cast has specialized jobs. I’ve come to appreciate the work involved making this series fresh, fleshed out and a fun read. There are many more characters than the few I’ve mentioned.  Without them Eve Dallas would appear to be a heartless, tormented, hero that seeks out the killer without mercy. This is true but with her supporting cast she is so much more.

What if any series to do you read? Anything that I should know about them?