This is part of a series, 30 Days to A Stronger Novel
Picturebooks say one thing–emotionally.
Novels, on the other hand, comment on one thing from multiple perspectives and with sidetrips here and there. This means subplots. In a novel, you can take a sidetrip to act as a tour guide for a foreign land (such as the middle school across town!), to give extensive back story, or other reasons. The subplot, though, isn’t one of these sidetrips. Instead, it’s a set of cohesive actions with it’s own main characters, goals, setbacks and resolutions.
Types of Subplots
- Main character’s secondary concerns and goals. The main character can have more than one goal, usually relating to the main goal in some way. Romantic subplots are common.
- Secondary character’s concern and goal. One of the other characters is the hero of his/her own plot.
The key for all subplots is that they relate to the main plot and intersect with it in some way. For example, if the main plot is stopping a parent from smoking, subplots might be winning a stop-smoking poster contest, stopping single parent from dating someone, and a romance with the son of the storeowner who sells the cheapest cigarettes.
A subplot lets you comment on a side issue, show a contrasting point of view, raise the stakes in the main plot, deepen characterization through variety or contrast, provide plot twists, etc.
To plot a subplot, repeat the same steps as for the main plot, except that the subplot will be simpler, with fewer steps between the conflict and resolution.
Subplots can be introduced and resolved in just a couple chapters. For example, a chase scene that extends over three chapters in the middle of the novel could be a red herring, but gives tension for that sagging middle.
Subplots can also be introduced in the first or second chapter and have threads throughout until the end. The common practice is to resolve all subplot before the main plot, with the execption of the romance subplot, which by convention is resolved last.
Don’t let subplots be haphazard or under-developed. Give them the same thought and care you give to the main plot. Just keep them in scale to the main plot.
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