Tuesday Writing Tip – Who Needs Subplots?

Sub plots add interest and depth, but they can’t be allowed to overpower the main story

Spider webI have been working through the maze of my current work in progress, trying to discover the reasons why it almost works, but not quite.

One of the problems I’ve identified is subplot. One of my subplots has grown so big that it’s taking over the story. The other thing I’ve realised is that one of the characters in the subplot (even though he’s dead), doesn’t actually need to be there – he just complicates things – and not in a good way.

When you look at a spider web, you’ll see that there are some threads that seem to hold the whole thing together. They interconnect with and support the more delicate threads – that’s kind of how a subplot works. It has to be strong and relate to other threads, but it’s usually the same size and thickness as the others – at looks like it belongs.

Another thing with my subplot is that I had just used it as a device to explain things about my main characters. It wasn’t actually essential to the story. While it explained a lot about certain characters, it didn’t actually add anything to their story – in fact, it distracts the reader from what the book is really about.

The other thing about this subplot – and one of the reasons why it seemed to take over the story was that it stood out – it didn’t link to other subplots – it didn’t connect to or have a place in the web of my story.

Not only that, but the subplot had a strong theme that was equal in weight to the actual plot – so in fact it wasn’t a subplot, but a plot for another story. My main theme involved drug addiction. My sub plot involved a child being interfered with by a family member – both strong themes – but not ones that really belong in the same book.

So here’s what I’ve learned about sub plots:

  1. A sub plot has to be essential to the story
  2. A sub plot can’t be too overpowering and take over the story
  3. A sub plot should connect with other sub plots
  4. A sub plot shouldn’t be used as a device – it should be essential to your story
  5. Characters in a sub plot should be essential to your story
  6. The sub plot must affect the outcome of your main plot – it must help drive the story
  7. Too many sub plots can confuse the reader and weaken the impact of the main story

Have you ever had a subplot that’s tried to take over your story? What did you do about it? Feel free to share your tips and experiences in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and apologies to any arachnophobics, but I do think stories plots are like a web – don’t you?

Dee

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4 thoughts on “Tuesday Writing Tip – Who Needs Subplots?

  1. Congrats Dee,
    Fabulous post and reminders on subplots.
    I’m so glad you’ve worked out what you need to do to strengthen your story… Best wishes … Karen 🙂

  2. Hi Dee

    Your web image works well, especially when you consider that when a branch (the editor’s red pen) crashes through the web (the story) and swipes away a part of it (a subplot), there follows a time when the web floats in the breeze, unanchored. This is a scary time for the spider (not to mention the author). I find I need to ride in the wind for a while before I pull back from the torn edge and begin the process of reweaving. That time spent surveying the ragged edge of the story without rushing to fix it is vital to me. It’s when new possibilities emerge.

    I’ve been in denial about the number of subplots in my current MS. Your article has made me face up to a cold hard truth: at least one of my subplots needs to go!

    Cheers 🙂

  3. Hi Marianne,

    Thanks for dropping in. Love how you have taken the web and ‘floated’ with it:)

    Subplots can certainly get in the way of a good story, can’t they?

    Good luck with your rewrites:)

    Dee

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