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Purpose of subplots

Emma_Clare at 12:00AM, Dec. 14, 2018

Last week, we looked at ways to prevent the middle of your story from sagging. One of those suggestions was using a subplot or two to help flesh out both the world and characters of your story.

For those of you who are a bit confused as to what a subplot is, it is a secondary plot or story within the main one. So say you are writing an adventure story full of action and saving the world, but along the way, the protagonist falls in love. The swinging in and saving the world is the main plot and the sweeping the love interest off their feet is the subplot. It grounds the main plot and gives the reader a reason to care about the main character when you inevitably rain down all manner of awful circumstances.

The subplot has to affect the main plot, thus making it meatier
For a subplot to not feel like filler, it has to have some relevance to the main one. Whether that be a character moment that sheds light on who the protagonist is or highlights growing tensions within the world, the secondary plot has to support what the main plot is doing. Say you’re writing a high fantasy. Maybe a war breaks out when the sister of the main character gets kidnapped and they have to go save her. A subplot could be that his sister is actually in love with the king of the opposite side and the awful things her country is doing to her lover’s one. You get a better picture of the conflict whilst providing a future dilemma for the protag later on thus grounding your story and adding much needed emotional complication.

Subplots can improve your characters and show who they are
Let’s continue on with this example. With the subplot, we get to see more sides to the conflict rather than just that of the protag. Maybe we get to see one side of the prince but have another side presented through the subplot’s portrayal of the protag. The reader gets a more rounded sense of the complexity behind the MC as well as those who he is fighting against. It is here you can also…

Explore themes and show different sides of the message you want to convey
In this context, maybe your themes are, there is more than one side to the story and war is more complicated than US vs THEM. The subplot is where you can really get into that! The theme provides context as to what the overall story means and by employing it throughout the subplot you are not only lending more emotional weight to your story, it is providing the reasons as to why they should care about the main story thus…

The reader can get a well rounded view of the character and why they should care about why the character’s should they succeed in their trials
This is at the core of character development.
”Why should I care?”
The subplot is where you can explore the reasons why the dear reader should give a toss about the story without taking too much away from the main focus which, in this example, is swoop in, end war, save world. It can also provide much needed length if your struggling without the middle section feeling like it's full of filler.
How have you planned your subplots? Do you think they are necessary to the story? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Banes at 6:24AM, Dec. 16, 2018

Excellent article! Most of my subplots in the comic have been sitcom type things: involving different characters doing different things, B plots, I guess, more than subplots? I think I connect them by theme, but looking back I don't remember what the connection was in some of those subplots! - love that pic, too xD.

Tantz_Aerine at 6:47PM, Dec. 14, 2018

One of my subplots killed one of my main characters.

JustNoPoint at 8:14AM, Dec. 14, 2018

Many B plots set up future A plots too. At this point I probably have the entire alphabet of plots in my story. It can be a lot to juggle but that’s part of the fun for me!

Ironscarf at 4:31AM, Dec. 14, 2018

Nice article. Subplots can offer light and shade. If it's a super high stakes tale for instance, a bit of humour in the subplot is a common device. Also plot can sometimes feel like a box ticking exercise, having to hit all the signposts on the way to your destination. Subplots can give a lot more leeway to have fun and if you're having fun, readers might be having fun too, hopefully.

IronHorseComics at 4:00AM, Dec. 14, 2018

I would use it to remove garbage time, and to give the readers a chance to re focus themselves

bravo1102 at 2:02AM, Dec. 14, 2018

And the subplot is: diabolical raccoons! Or ninjas. Ninjas make everything better -- or diabolical ninja raccoons.

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