SUBPLOTS: HOW AND WHEN TO USE THEM

A subplot is subordinate to the main plot of a literary work or film.

The Purposes of Adding a Subplot

  1. To add depth to and round out other characters
  2. To deepen the characterization of the main characters by exploring their desires, relationships, life issues, vulnerabilities, and growth
  3. To affect the main plot and drive the main characters to act in ways they otherwise might not
  4. To make the story multi-layered
  5. To help the writer of a long storyline by having more than one plot  to sustain the story
  6. To add to the tension, by steering away from the main plot at a cliff-hanger point, hoping the reader will keep wondering, keep reading until you steer back to the main plot

Types of Subplots

  1. Parallel: These subplots involve characters who know each other, but these subplots are completely independent of each other or of the main plot.
  2. Interwoven: These are complex and the outcome of the main plot depends in some way on the outcome of the subplot.

Subplot Variations

  1. Comic Relief: Explore humorous situations or add funny secondary characters
  2. Reflection of Main Plot: Explore a conflict or problem in the main plot, such as secondary characters overcoming obstacles that the main characters need to learn to do
  3. Contrast: Compare and contrast a character introduced in the main plot
  4. Complications: Raise the stakes of the main plot by adding physical or emotional intimacy
  5. Clues: Feed in information to be used later in the main plot, such as in romances and mysteries

How to Write a Subplot

  1. Create a subplot (or subplots) that will add depth to the main storyline and pull the reader though the story.
  2. Alternate plot and subplot, such as in alternate chapters.
  3. Structure a subplot like the main plot, with a beginning, middle, and end.
  4. Weave the plot and subplot together, advancing each as the story moves forward.
  5. Make sure the protagonist is the most important character in the story. The secondary character should never outweigh the protagonist or share equal time.
  6. Subplots should end either right before the main plot, or when the main plot ends.

The Smarts

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This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.