Subplots: Keeping Other Story Lines in Check

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I’m working on a science fiction novel right now, the second book of a trilogy, the Blue Planet Series. Book 1 is done, and Book 2 has a full draft that I’m revising. Book 3 is in outline form. The premise of the series is this: “Earth finally hears from space. “You only live on land; allow us to live in the seas.”

Book 2 has several subplots that I’m trying to rein in. The storyline takes off into a new setting, and it’s been hard to get them all in the same place at the same time. The first draft includes at least three different POV chapters to get everyone to the new setting. These subplots clutter up the last half of the story. I probably need to axe one, and just summarize how everyone reached the new place, and get on with the main plot.

But before I do that, I want to be sure I need to cut them.

Subplots can serve several roles in a story:

  • Another POV on a theme, something at a tangent.
  • A side story, such as a 3-chapter chase scene, with the results impacting the story.
  • Character development of a minor character to give them more weight.
  • The eventual outcome of the subplot must change the main plot’s outcome.

Examine the Role of Each Subplot

If you need help in evaluating your subplots, here are some things to consider. | DarcyPattison.com

Each of my subplots will need to be examined to see what role they play in the story.

One subplot does add a different POV of the story’s theme. However, of the three chapters included, only one seems to be essential. For a single chapter, is it worth including in the story? That’s the question that I”ll be looking at for this subplot and I’m not sure where I’ll wind up. I might take that single chapter and expand it into an appropriate three chapter subplot. Or I might omit it. In fact, I’ll probably have to try both tactics.

Another question is when to give the villain his/her own subplot. When is it important to give the villain enough space to become the hero/ine or anti-hero/ine of his/her own story? Villains need to be developed enough to make worthy opponents, and sometimes we even want him/her to be understood. I’ve given my villain about three chapter, also, and another that includes his daughter, even if it’s not in his POV. I’ll have to consider if that’s the right balance for this story.

Finally, I’m asking if subplots actually add something essential to the main plot. They may be fine stories on their own merit, but they must play second fiddle to the main plot and provide some harmony to the melody. It’s a complicated dance in some ways, but in some ways, it’s a clear-cut decision. Either the subplot adds to the main plot – which means I can keep it. Or it doesn’t – which means it must be cut. I must be ruthless in these decisions, so the main plot works and works well.

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