This is the second post in my series about plotting. Click here to read the first one, Mapping Out Your Journey.
So, you have the big idea for your plot. You’ve written it out, you’re ready to write. Right?
Not quite, my friend. You need subplots. What? My main plot isn’t enough to carry the weight of a whole novel? Sorry, no. For a number of reasons.
It’s surprisingly hard to have enough content to write a novel. That’s 50,000 words. A single strand of plot is too thin for that. You might get away with it in a novella, and certainly a short story. Subplots beef up your story and develop your characters even more.
Let’s look at Supernatural, one of my favorite shows, as an example. Yeah, the main plot for the various seasons is defeating Azazel, Lucifer, Crowley, The Darkness…. the list goes on and on and on. But is that the key reason the show is so loved? Or is the real reason it’s been running for almost 15 years the story of Sam and Dean. Sure, the villains have provide good conflict, but the conflict between the Winchester brothers hurts so much more. I’d even argue that Sam and Dean’s relationship is the central plot and everything else is a side plot.
You can have the greatest premise for a novel, but without those juicy little side plots your story will be pretty dry.
So what should I do for subplots? Anything an everything. A sick parent, sibling issues, conflict with a significant other or a bully, trying to get good grades, mental illness, trying to complete some task, opening a business, writing a paper. Anything can make a subplot.
But here’s the key thing to remember: the best subplots are ones that tie into the central plot. Think of it like weaving. All the strands have to interweave, otherwise everything falls apart. Maybe that last fight your MC (main character) had with their significant other really threw them off their game. Maybe they’re too shaken to fight at their best. Maybe they end up getting captured because they’re so distracted they don’t hear the enemy scouts creeping up behind them. You can do anything you like with these because you’re the author.
Go look at your plot. Where can you add in subplots? Where can you add some more muscle to your story? Some more conflict? But first, a word of warning. Don’t get carried away with your subplots and let your central plot be shoved to the wayside. However, if that does happen, take a good look at the situation before you start editing. Maybe that side plot would make an even better central plot, or maybe you need to move some things around so you still have your original central plot, but you’re able to let that side plot have all the page time it deserves.
Sometimes, when I wake up at night, I feel invisible hands weaving my destiny.
-Fernando PessoaWhat Your Characters Are Thinking