Dealing with Subplots

In novels, uncovering the layers of problems, conflicts and resolutions is part of the fun. Readers expect more than a simple plot, even in genres.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are some things to consider in working with subplots:

  • Keep Subplots Manageable. For your viewpoint characters, often an outer and an inner conflict is sufficient. Be cautious about adding so many layers that none of them is treated sufficiently. A standard piece of advice for first-time novelists is two subplots.
  • Keep Subplots Balanced. Since writing is so solitary, it’s normal for the writer to be drawn to the internal conflict of a character. After all, we spend a lot of time sitting around thinking. This approach can be deadly for novels–get your characters moving where possible. By writing active scenes, you’ll be helping your story’s inner and outer conflicts to feel balanced.
  • Better Late Than Never. Here’s a secret: many, many novelists don’t start out a book with all the elements lined up in a neat row. If you get feedback that your conflict needs to be steeper (more at stake), don’t be afraid to add a twist or two, even if you’re far along in the draft or rewrite. Insert these johnny-come-lately subplots at appropriate places along your novel’s story line. This is called “planting.” You plant your new subplot at various spots, making sure that 1) each subplot comes up regularly and 2) the subplots don’t upstage or takeover the main story problem.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “Dealing with Subplots

  1. Good thoughts. I am trying to deal with subplots now as I rewrite my NaNoWriMo novel. You’re right; it can be hard to balance thought and action sometimes. Hope I can get it right! 🙂

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