Tag Archives: Personal Agenda

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.

Think You Need Therapy? So Do Most Main Characters.

Last time I brought up building character we talked about baggage and what it does for our cast of players. The funny thing is that like us some of them should get some help. The most eccentric characters can be the most fun. I’m not saying that all characters have to be completely mad, but a fear of spiders, being disgusted when their hair gets messed or a guest not using a coaster does add flavor.

The most well rounded, stable and what we used to call normal people are not the best choice for a main character. They are much too middle of the road to be entertaining, unless you throw a cream pie at them. Well, that’s always funny.

But seriously, normal people have a place in the supporting cast–shoulder to cry on, sage with wise advice, etc. They cope too easily with misfortune, and don’t have an emotional range that an entertaining story requires. Staying in character is a must, so normal doesn’t just throw a hissy fit when it suits the writer. Big no-no that.

Characters can bring humor to a tale, but the darker the problems they carry with them the darker the story can become which leads to the decision making process.

After you decide if your story will be a light read or psychological thriller, you’ll decide on the cast of characters you’ll need to bring it to life. This is also where plot and characterization snowball and evolve together. Here is when I make a general outline–mostly of plot points, and decide on how the characters will interact with each other and the future events.

What I try to do: I imagine a group of people trying to attain personal goals while events beyond their control take place. I already know that some characters will have agendas that have nothing to do with the story. For this example I’ll use a murder mystery because the lines are pretty clear as to what the story goal is. “A” is trying to find the killer. “B” is trying to get away with murder. “C” thinks he knows whodunit and wants lots and lots of money to keep quiet. “D” just wanted to have a nice dinner and is very upset that “E”, the victim, died at the biggest event of the season–not that she liked him very much anyway. If you put everyone in one room, there will be a heck of a show. Other cast members are there too. Some stand back. Some try to stop the arguments. Some just want to get out of there.

Since we are looking for conflict and tension I think we’ll have that. In fact, I strongly suspect that “D” might kill “B” for ruining her party.

Using baggage, and slightly off balanced characters can add flavor to your plot. So don’t let your main characters get any psychological help until after the writing is done. Slowly becoming “normal” can be part of your character’s arc.

What are some of your favorite characters? Do any of them need therapy or do you love them as is? 🙂

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?

Character Motivation #amwriting

Backstory Isn’t’ Enough

Don’t’ get me wrong. I’m not the master of the backstory, but I do know what not to do.  Too much too soon will have your readers dropping the book like a hot potato. Using backstory to show motivation is a delicate process. It should be spoon fed a few sentences at a time during dialogue, inner thoughts, etc.

Psychology Deepens the Backstory

I would like to claim that I understand the human mind completely, but I don’t. To write about people we need insight. Where do we find it? What do we share? I’m beginning to think I need to take Psych 101. But until then . . .

My scars came from my past. I still interact with many of the people that put them there. So what does that mean? It means I can use this.

For example:

MC1 was a victim of a practical joke back in high school which left a scar that has never faded. In fact, it festered. At their school reunion MC1 faces the instigator of the prank. Still angry and hurt, MC1 has a visceral reaction, then as MC1 thinks things through decides to play the same trick on the prankster.

Not letting the past go is logical to the reader and it leads to resentment which leads to revenge and the eventual decision to act out. Whether a person agrees with the choices or not, each step is easily understood and identified with.

I think we should add some more fuel. Let’s say the accused prankster was the actual target the first time around and the victim’s best friend was the real prankster. Why? Well, in my head the best friend has a crush on MC1 and was trying to knock a wedge between accused prankster and MC1.

And it backfired. Oh, and worked. They even got married and have a kid or two.

Going Deeper

Rarely does anyone have only one goal in life. So it follows that our major characters also have goals that result in conflicting needs. The deeper the writer understands human nature the deeper the characterization will be, adding infinite possibilities.

So MC1 and MC1’s spouse go to the reunion. How will that work? We have MC1 who wants revenge and make his spouse happy. We have MC1’s spouse who want to stop MC1, wants to confess to MC1 and wants accused prankster to leave the reunion. And the accused prankster refusing to go and constantly following MC1 because she has something on her mind.

Is there conflict? Are the motivations of the major characters clear? Will any of this work? Ha, I don’t know but this is fun. No matter what happens it’s going to be chaotic.

Characters need goals and motivation. Readers need an emotional link to the major characters. By understanding the logic and deepening their needs we create conflict, multiple story arcs, and the reader relates to all of them.

Villains—my Achilles’ heel

For me I don’t understand how someone can out right and with complete forethought hurt another human being. That is why I need Psych 101. Outlining it I can do, but until I can express a believable, not cheesy, motivator for evil doers I’ll never write a really great story.

I know the trick is to think of them as misunderstood characters that feel they are doing the right thing. Tell that to a vampire’s dinner, or a violent crime victim.3069040

Yeah, right. Easier said than done. If you have any suggestions that may make this easier on me please share. I really could use some help.