Subplots are secondary plots or story lines that coexist with the primary story. They add depth and complexity to primary plots, shows the different facets of characters, engage the readers, increase tension, and make the overall reality of the story more believable as the main plot progresses. A fine example of subplots is Shakespeare’s infamous Romeo and Juliet. The romance between Romeo and Juliet is the main plot and drives the entire story, while the feud between their family acts as the subplot. The feud increases the tale’s conflict and drama as demonstrated in scenes of the Montagues fighting the Capulets or sharing their hatred of each other’s family. Without the relevant subplot Romeo and Juliet’s forbidden love would be simple and likely wouldn’t have led to a tragic ending.
While the main plot is building, a writer should always remember subplots relevant to the main character or the story’s development. Other subplots can be added during revisions. If you like your subplots more than your plot, consider reworking how the plot advances or its relevance to the subplots. You’ll want the main plot to be straight forward, because a confusing main plot will doom any subplot.Here are some subplots I consider when I’m fleshing out the Plot Skeleton.
Consider character relationships.
♠ Is your Main Character fighting with their best friend?
♠ Is there tension between your Main Character and a family member?
♠ Consider romantic relationships.
Consider the mentality of your character.
♥ When achieving their goal becomes slow, does your character lose faith? Focus? Hope?
♥ What is their mental state like?
♥ Does your character have a good support system?
♥ Are they lonely?
Can your character motivate themselves, even when times get tough?
◊ How is your character dealing with what’s going on in their life emotionally?
◊ Do they have support from those in their life?
◊ How are do they cope?
How is your character’s physically health? Stress can have detrimental affects on health.
◊ Is your character run down?
◊ How is the character’s health in relation to their goal?
Subplots and Characters
Consider your whole story while you create subplots, and how you’ll be selling the story as a finished product. Sometimes, although rarely, a subplot can mean a sub-genre. A hard-boiled British secret agent and his romantic entanglement(s) adds color to the main plot of the British agent defeating the villain or saving the world. Nature of the subplot aside, writers must keep the subplot and main plot’s maturity balanced with the tone or theme of the overall story. Remember the demographics of your targeted audience. The older they are the more likely you’ll be using multiple subplots. Interconnected subplots make the story appear more complex and give readers different things to ponder over. It also gives you the chance to develop many side characters.
Don’t be too specific when you first start designing characters, or bother with their appearances. Simply map out their roles to the plot or subplots. Determine what drives each character and why they’re in this specific story or critical scene. What they add to the scene can be added later, unless you have something specific in mind.
◊ An interesting subplot could be a character’s secret. This isn’t necessarily something they’re intentionally hiding or lying about, but it needs to be something that ties into the plot or subplot(s).
◊ The character’s past can be used in subplots too, and it doesn’t need to be connected to their current motivation. Did they have a past relationship with a character and now it’s awkward? What could they have done years ago, as a teenager or college student, that they regret today?
As the characters form, ask yourself what parts of the plot will change these characters? How will they evolve due to the plot/subplot? It might not be plot that changes them but readers and publishers always expect some character development in a story, and a definitive change by the story’s ending.
Connecting Subplots to the Plot: the Final Step
Compile a timeline of the story’s major events and all the subplot events, all in chronological order. Sometimes authors write two list: one of the story as it happens, another of the story as the reader reads/learns of the events. Remember to list historical events you want to exist in the backstory. As you write think of where the story is going, focus on rising actions, how this main plot builds to conflict, and finally the climactic moment.
You’ll be writing one more list- what I call the “Author’s Plot Line,” not to be confused with the general plot line, or the chronological timeline. The Authors Plot Line begins anywhere on the timeline, and starts the story from that point. Pick an interesting point to start your first chapter; something with action or relevance. Preferably not at the beginning of your timeline- this way you can write huge reveals in later chapters, reveals where important prior events or links are exposed. Consider what information should come out, when and in what order. The Author’s Plot Line basically tells the story from where the author starts and ends the story, which may not be chronologically correct. The Author’s Plot Line is the base line you’ll follow as you write the story in manuscript format. Tension is meant to build as the line continues, so choose points carefully. You may not have all your characters created yet, but you’ve got the structure of your story and a framework to follow as you write.