Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why Use Subplots?

Subplots are mini stories woven into the plot, each containing a beginning, middle, and end. Outside of the main plot, they can center around the protagonist, focus on a secondary character, or a combination of both. Why should a writer use subplots in her novel?

-to sidetrack the reader so the main plot isn’t revealed too soon
-to add tension or suspense
-to reveal sides of the protagonist that might not have otherwise come out
-to enhance the theme
-to add a twist to the main storyline
-to show the protagonist’s growth
-to drive the story forward with new questions
-to provide relief from a violent or sad storyline
-to show another character’s POV on the fictional world

The reason to use a subplot isn’t as important as ensuring there is at least one subplot in a manuscript. Otherwise, the novel will read more like a long short story, instead of a multi-layered book like those that readers are accustomed to buying.

How many subplots are in your novel? Why have you added them to your plot?


  1. I have two. Comic relief and a twist.

  2. I usually have at least two. Sometimes I plan them ahead of time and sometimes they just show up.

  3. I'm still trying to decide on how many to have, but at least two and possibly three. They will provide comedy, paint a better picture of the MC, and of course, danger. : )

  4. My problem is that I love subplots. I love them so much that I put too many in my novel, distracting the reader from the main through-line. hah When I use them they're usually to further growth of the protagonist or to drive the story forward. On a good day, I have around 2 or 3 subplots, but if I allow myself to get too excited, I end up with around 10. WAY too many! hah

  5. I have about five. They added the needed mystery and tension.

  6. I *clears throat* like to pretend that I have some control over my sub-plots. I usually have at a bare minimum 5 subplots going on at any given point in time.

    The problem with NOT controling them is that someetimes, you can have waaaaaaaaay too many and THAT detracts from your plot. THEN you have so many, you forget to tie up one or two loose ends.

    However, in my head, I never have that problem. I have a MAXIMUM of 5 subplots in my story and I have complete control over them!


  7. I have the opposite problem from the previous comments...I tend to focus so much on getting the main plot out that sub-plots are an "afterthought" for me. I have to consciously add them after the fact (something I'm doing in revisions right now, actually). Because I've become cognizant of the fact, I'm making an effort to add them into my outline for the next draft, so I (hopefully) won't have so much work to do in revisions. ;-)

    I'm adding four sub-plots to my current draft...and there are around that many planned for the next novel as well.

  8. My subplots usually emerge as I write. As the characters start interacting, I'm able see what the subplots are.

  9. I have two - the twist and to drive the story forward. (of course, I didn't realize this until I read your post!) :-)

  10. I have to write my rough draft before my subplots really show themselves to me... I wish I could start out from the get-go knowing!!

    I have an award for you on my blog today, I hope it makes you happy :)

  11. Seems like everyone has some subplots in their stories. Good job, guys!

    Lynnette Labelle

  12. Great post, Lynette! And you know what I love? When I'm writing a subplot develops that I didn't plan. I don't know how that happens, but every once in awhile it does.

  13. O.k. major type-o in my comment. Sorry! I had too much coffee. I meant to type that it's cool when a subplot develops and I didn't plan it!

  14. I never really plan the subplots ahead of time - they just pop up from out of nowhere! I try to limit them to one or two, to keep the story going or add depth to the supporting characters.

  15. I linked to this post and neglected to mention here how much I liked this one. I'd never considered why a novel-length story needs subplot, but you state it very succinctly.

  16. Lynnette,

    Great post. Some great comments also. With my WIP, I see two subplots emerging.

  17. Great points, here. Subplots aren't something I've spent a lot of time considering, as I'm in the first draft of my manuscript (and so far yet to go).

    Thanks for this post!

  18. I have two in my first novel, and I think they do bring out more of the MC's backstory while avoiding the infamous "info dump".

    The sequel, however, doesn't seem to have a back story. Maybe I should see why that is.

    Hmm, thanks for the insight.