Novels that satisfy are multi-dimensional. The reader feels as if he/she is immersed in the fictional “vivid and continuous dream” idea made famous by John Gardner. Yet subplots, which drive a novel to feel rich with meaning, can hijack and sabotage the main story.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are some thoughts on subplots in the novel:
- Limit Their Number. It’s good advice to the first-time novelist to keep the story streamlined by not including too many subplots. Two subplots are plenty. So the character’s primary goal is the main story, while a romance, relationship or other situations comprise the subplots. If you include too many subplots, they will feel irritating and intrusive to the reader.
- Don’t Leave the Main Story for Long. While your reader craves action and variety, if you ignore the main theme for very long while you develop a subplot, the reader will either forget the main story or feel confused as to what story is the most important to follow. As in real life, if there’s something big at stake (and there should be), your character will be thinking, talking or acting on that big thing most of the time.
- Weave a Braid. As your novel nears its climax, you must begin to “round up the horses,” the subplots you have written that raise questions for the reader. Will she get the guy? What really happened to grandpa? Is Mom’s cancer curable? If these subplots are resolved all at once they may compete with the main story. Treat them like a braid: weaving resolutions to the subplots in the final pages.