Subplots Can Deepen A Story

Subplots are stories within your story. They have a similar structure—beginning, middle, end—but they cannot overshadow the main plot. Instead they should enhance the main plot by providing complication to the life of a main character, foreshadowing an event to come in the main character’s life, reflecting the main character’s growth as he comes to the aid of a subplot character, reflect the story’s theme, and providing a mirror image of the main plot issue that can help the main character to find resolution to his or her own problem. As well a subplot can add comic relief, provide a break in the main character’s tension or can deepen the tension, reflect social or historical circumstance that affect the plot, and offer another perspective on the life and times of the main character. A subplot can add variety to a longer novel but still has a valuable purpose.

Subplots are never the focal point of a novel The subplot is best resolved before the end so that it does not distract from the main story. Subplots provide a “real life” feeling to a novel. When you look at everyday life, you realize most people have their time, energy and concern affected by other people’s problems or situations. This is fodder for a subplot They are not concocted but tend to happen naturally as the story progresses. A secondary character appears in the story with the purpose of moving the story forward, but occasionally the character brings with him an issue of his own. This is part of creativity writing which most novelists count on, and the character’s issues may provide a solid subplot.

Subplots are woven through the threads of the main story and broaden the story world. The issue appears and, as said earlier, adds the complication, foreshadowing or deepening the main plot by its affect on the story. Subplots can result from friends or family, even a stranger who might appear in the character’s life and need help of some kind. The subplot can involved a health issue, a job change, a troubled friend or child, an aged relative who needs care, a friend who asks for a favor, or a letter that arrives from someone that creates a problem and thus a subplot.

Some novelists use subplots to build a whole story. Maeve Binchy, who died recent, is one of my favorite novelists. She’s from Ireland and her novels often start with a main character’s story, and then segues to other character’s and stories that are somehow connected with the main plot. One of her early novels called The Lilac Bus revolves around the characters who ride a lilac-colored mini-van each weekend from their job in Dublin to their hometown 17 miles away. The stories tend to tie together since they are all residence of the town and their families know each other, but often the novel’s main focus is on one character. Binchy’s novel, The Evening Class, brings together a variety of characters who eventually end up attending the same evening class. This style story is not easy to write but shows the dynamics of plots and subplots.

When creating a subplot, make sure it is meaningful and provides a purpose that deepens the plot and makes a difference in the story. Some subplots may come to mind as you build your story while others may popup after you begin to write. Multiple subplots work well in a longer book yet they should never be so many or so unimportant as to distract from the main plot. As you plan or as the inspiration arises, ask yourself how the subplot will enhance your novel. List the ways in which the subplot will deepen the story. If you find good reason to include it, then go for it.

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