Outline #4 – Developing Subplot Arcs

The Gideon conference offered me some interesting concepts to think about, and one of the topics was outlining plot elements for a dynamic film or book. The fourth point under outlining dealt with developing subplot arcs.

4. Develop subplot arcs affect the main plot. Weave these subplot arcs through the novel rather than dropping them into the story and then resolving them early. A subplot must make an impact on the main story and change it in a meaningful way by adding conflict.

Perhaps the word “arc” is a concept not well known to some writers. An arc in fiction is the journey with its ups and downs. It’s the rise of conflicts and the resolving and the next rise to a new conflict. The arc, then, shows the effect of change. To see it visually, picture the pattern of a stock market’s journey from month to month. This pattern is seen in all the arcs: characters and story, but in this case I’m talking about subplots.

Subplots are subordinate plots, woven throughout the story, that relate to the main plot and affect the story’s outcome. In a story where a detective is searching for a serial killer, a subplot might be that the detective learns his wife wants a divorce. Obviously this affects the detective’s mood, concentration, contentment, lifestyle and many other life aspects. It will obviously add stressto his life and draw on his energy.

When adding a subplot, authors must create an arc for it just as they do for the total plot. This means organizing the various subplot points with growing conflict and then deciding where they can fall within the main plot to create the greatest stress and conflict to the main story. In the Detective plot, you might decide the first step would involve the detective’s suspicion that something isn’t right at home. Should this be revealed through introspection or dialogue? You would make that decision. When will this happen in the major plot?

These decisions create the subplot’s arc, creating its own plot points and then weaving it through the main spot in the most effective way.

Creating powerful stories means adding complexities to the plot and subplots is one way to do this. It makes the story real, since real people have numerous “subplots” in their lives from dealing with children, spouse, work environment, social life, temptations, finances, and friends or familiy who have issues that affect the person. Life is complex, and subplots make our stories like real life.

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