Subplots are meant to deepen your story, but if they aren’t watched too closely, they can take you down a costly rabbit trail and cause you to lose precious writing time and brainpower.
Why do you need subplots? Well, think of your book like a tree. The trunk is the plot. The branches are the subplots. The bark is the overall theme that contains the story and makes the subplot and plot connect. The leaves are the characters, descriptions and settings that bring life and beauty to the story.
Without branches, what is a tree? A stump. A stump that could have been spectacular, but having been cut down to its core, its not that interesting, so we need to add subplots to add depth and life to our stories.
How to create a subplot:
1. Review your main plot points. Example: Jane walks to store across town to buy a box of chocolates, but ends up falling in love instead.
2. Take your plot points and decide the direction of each event/plot point. Now, the event of going to the store can either lead to adventure or be cut and dry, but for subplots, we would choose the adventure route! Example: On the way to the store, Jane gets hit by a bus and is forced to recover in hospital for a few months.
3. Add to the subplot through additional characters. In the above example, the main plot was pretty simple, but when we added an unexpected event that throws our reader off the trail, we have the chance to introduce more characters. Example: While recovering, Jane falls in love with Dr. William, but the moment she is out of the hospital, she rushes to the store to buy the box of chocolates to find that they are on the top shelf, so she breaks the story policy and climbs a misplaced ladder to retrieve them only to fall off the step ladder and into the arms of shelf-stocker, Jim. That first event branch led to an introduction of one character and the continuation of the main plot led to yet another event branch of our story tree. Now that Jane has two options for love (because obviously if she is rescued from a near death experience, she falls in love, right?), the plot has deepened!
4. Add internal/external conflicts due to those additional characters/events. Jane only wanted a box of chocolates, but now, she’s faced with an even greater decision, who to choose? So, she goes to the woods to think and sits on a stump to mull it all over, but when she encounters a bear, she is sent straight back to the hospital and into the arms of Dr. William where she is reminded of her first love once again.
5. Don’t forget the theme! It seems as if the story has gotten quite off trail from the original plot, doesn’t it? Well, the important thing is to keep them connected with a theme (Jane’s mission for chocolate) or else it will grow into an entirely new story and take over your plot. How to keep it on track? Dr. William buys her a box of chocolates as a “get well soon” present.
Subplots can go on forever, so it’s important to know when to get out the chainsaw and chop off unruly branches to keep it true to the original shape of the main plot.
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