Subplots

Photo by Aziz Acharki

One of my favorite parts of storytelling is subplots. A lot of writers refer to them as “strands” of a story, but I like to think of them as one with the story. I don’t separate them, and sometimes I don’t even plan them. That’s not to say I don’t plot them. I let them develop naturally within my story world and tweak when needed. Of course, some subplots do need to be brainstormed and plotted carefully.

Many writers are intimated by subplots. Writing the main plot is enough work, and now we, here in the literary world, are asking you to do more work. I’m telling you though–great stories require great subplots. Don’t think of throwing in your hat quite yet, though. I’ve got great news regarding subplots.

You’ve probably done half the work already.

Subplots are ingrained in our stories so deeply that sometimes we can’t see that we already have them, that we already started writing one. You have in-depth characters? In-depth world building? Then you already have enough material for subplots. That conflict you’re writing with a romantic interest or best friend is a subplot. The war raging outside the main plot is a subplot. The envy a character feels for another character is a subplot.

We have subplots in our own lives by having relationships with other people. We have family subplots, friend subplots, romantic subplots. We all have a main goal we are trying to achieve, but just like in novels, our lives are not a straight shot.

Where we have community, we have subplots.

Note: If your story relies on pacing, you’ll likely not have subplots. Pieces such as thrillers are fast-paced, and there’s no room for them.

Photo by Toa Heftiba 

What are subplots?

Subplots can run the entire length of the novel, half of it, or for only a short time. They often involve the secondary characters but can be about your protagonist. No matter who you choose for the subplot, they should, at some point, involve your main character. Subplots are simple to write if you know your characters. Characters who you’ve spent time on will be complex, and there is often opposition between them. Subplots add depth to your story and can evoke empathy in your reader. They can give your readers a break from the main story-line to explore your character’s world. This could be relationships with each other, problems arising in your world, or internal conflict.

Keep in mind that your subplots don’t have to appear to connect at first, but by the end of your piece, your reader will see the connection.

So, how do you write better subplots?

Brainstorming

Photo by Jo Szczepanska

The first step to writing a subplot is to brainstorm them. I like to use a whiteboard for brainstorming, but you can do whatever is most comfortable for you. To brainstorm, you must first know what your central theme or main plot is. You also have to know your characters. The more complex characters you develop, the better subplots you’ll come up with.

Subplots show different angles of your theme, plot, or characters. For instance, the theme of love can be shown with the protagonist who is trying to find love or has a love interest. Secondary characters can already have found their true love, or are struggling with their partner, or detest love. It shows choices, and choices show conflict.

Increasing Conflict:

Photo by Chris Sabor

Out of your list of possible subplots, look at the ones that will increase conflict. The trick here is to choose ones that relate to the central theme or main plot. As stated, they don’t have to make sense to your reader right away. Even a romantic subplot can end up influencing your main plot. There’s no greater incentive to save the world if it means saving the romantic interest or family.

Subplots can stem from your main plot, too. Two important characters don’t agree with a plan and their always at odds over what the next step should be. Conflict happens even if you’re on the same side.

Showing how characters handle smaller conflicts can foreshadow coming bigger conflicts. Your readers see how your characters dealt with the less important ones, and it makes them unsure if your character is doomed to repeat the not so graceful ones. On the flip side, it shows their strengths.

Using Subplots For Back Story

Photo by Aman Shrivastava

If you’ve ever read Pride and Prejudice, you know that Darcy and Wickham knew each other. Not only was Wickham used as a subplot with Lydia, but it also gave readers information on both Darcy and Wickham creatively. It showed us their character without telling us.

Austin is certainly not the only one to use this type of subplot to further develop our understanding of her characters. We see it in some of the best novels and movies out there, and you can use this technique, too. Snape hated Harry, but we didn’t quite understand why until Rowling used a subplot between Lily, James, and Snape during their younger years.

What’s the right number of subplots?

Photo by Paul Bergmeir

There is no formula for the right number of subplots. A lot of writers say stick to one for every 15,000 words or so. I say that’s too limiting for what subplots can do. My only rule is this: if the subplot outshines the story, either change your story or delete the subplot from it (to use it as the main plot in another story).

Every point of view in your story will add a subplot because every character is different. Even your antagonist can be a subplot and have subplots if you wish it.

How to write a subplot.

Photo by Green Chameleon

The good thing is that writing a subplot mimics how you would write the main plot.

You give your character a problem, have them try to solve the problem, throw conflict in and opposition, and bring about the resolution.

The resolution will depend on your preferences. You can have them achieve their goal or not. Depending on the length of your subplot will depend on how many plot points it gets. They always get a beginning, middle, and end, though.

That’s the jist of subplots. Go forth and write!

Leave comment below to tell us what you’re favorite subplots are.

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.



Writer’s Block: Fear On Steroids.

Photo by Joe Beck

Imagine you’re a new blogger, and your blog is super important to your Author Platform. It’s one of the things that’s going to make agents and publishers notice you. It’s what’s going to start your reader base. It’s what’s going to make or break your career. You have to build it from the ground up, build it out of nothing, and hope you don’t fail. Because if you do, there goes your whole career.

It’s probably not that serious, but in this day and age, it’s pretty important to have an Author Platform. The point is that your anxiety probably rose a bit when you imagined all that pressure building over a blog.

You’ve probably felt it while writing a draft. You probably sat back and thought, “I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and no one will be interested in a single thing I write.”

And then, poof, you can’t write. Not a single word. You stare at the blank page, maybe delete or scratch out whatever you did write. Devastation follows, self-loathing, depression, the whole works, because of one sentence. One feeling. But, probably a feeling you’ve felt far too many times, and not just in your writing life.

That is fear on steroids.

I promise there are ways to beat this feeling. As we all know, though, we are different people and what works for me may not work for you. We do have one main thing in common, though.

We can change how we think.

Use it or lose it.

Photo by Natasha Connell

First, it’s important to understand the brain. Scientists used to think that our neural pathways (basically a “signal path”) were set by our mid-twenties, never to change. They recently discovered this isn’t the case.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Brains have amazing neuroplasticity, which is the ability to reorganize those signal paths based on experiences.

It’s why some people who were abused or fought in wars develop PTSD. I developed it after domestic violence. It’s also why psychotherapy works (at least for me). Negative experiences can shape our brain, but if we work at it, we can intentionally shape it, too.

Bottom line is: you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Habits

Photo by Natasha Connell

Think of neural pathways like hiking trails. The more you travel a particular trail, the more defined it becomes. If we stop hiking a trail and start another one, the old one starts to grow back and the new one becomes well traveled instead. The strength of neural pathways depends on how much we work at a particular skill. It becomes easier the more we do it (habit).

The great part is that neuroplasticity helps in cases of brain injury. It takes neurons from damaged pathways and helps us cope in new ways, strengthening less used pathways or creating new ones. Like building muscles, it takes time. Takes resiliency. Takes stubbornness.

Which leads me back to changing how we think.

Self-Care

Photo by Jared Rice

We’ve all been guilty of self-sabotage, and being downright mean to ourselves. Let me be the first to say this doesn’t help out creativity. It dries it out, among a whole bunch of other psychological problems.

Ask yourself this: would you be so cruel to someone else as you are to yourself?

If the answer is no, then why treat yourself this way? (If the answer is yes, please do some soul searching. The world has enough ugly.)

You’re so busy trying to be perfect at everything you do, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. There is no greater gift than the ability to love yourself, and it’ll do wonders for your creativity.

One of my rules now is I don’t call myself names, not even when I’m so frustrated with myself and my inability to write that I could give up. I also try to not use definitive words when I talk about myself and my actions. “Never” and “always” are not in my vocab. (I’m still trying to reassign those neural pathways, so you’ll catch me still using them from time to time).

Say out loud, “I’m never going to be a good writer”. How does that make you feel? What happened to your mood? Now say with a little attitude, “I am a good writer!” Did it pick you back up?

As I stated, neural pathways aren’t redirected overnight. It takes time, practice, and patience. When you catch yourself being negative, correct yourself. Be nicer to yourself. Be the little engine that could. Shove the fear and negativity off the back of the train. You are worth it. What you’re writing becomes worth it with practice. No one can say things as you can.

Self-care is incredibly important if you want to live a healthy life. Without it, it can truly make or break you.

Training neural pathways is one way to beat writer’s block. Working on being positive will pay off. It’ll change your life.

Some times, losing it is positive, if you’re losing the negativity.

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU, with a minor in Psychology. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.