While working on my story’s timeline, I began questioning myself regarding how I would present certain information to the readers. Sometimes it can be difficult to offer key details to the audience without interrupting the flow of the storyline. One effective way to solve this problem is with the inclusion of subplots, which is the subject of today’s writing article.
The basics of a story is a plotline which follows the exploits of the main characters as they attempt to resolve a conflict while making their way to their intended goal. So how exactly do subplots come into play?
A subplot is a string of events taking place within a storyline, but is not the principal focus of the story. They are linked to the primary plot in either time, place, characters, setting or in thematic significance. Though subplots may be smaller in scale or impact than the main plot, they support and drive the main story.
The purpose of the subplot is to enhance and strengthen the primary plot by adding dimension and complexity to it. There are several ways adding subsidiary plot lines can do this:
- Help the plot progress in satisfying increments by controlling the pace of the action.
- Further characterization by observing a character's transformation throughout the story.
- Underline important elements of the main plot, such as theme or motif, by use of repetition or exploring different perspectives.
- Reveal key information to your characters or to the reader.
- Add variety to a story by alternating tone.
- Link unrelated elements, such as events or characters, to the main plot.
The key to plotting a novel with several plot lines is to treat each plot as its own entity, before intertwining them. Begin by defining the main plot and dividing it into chapters, then repeat the process for each subplot. Finally, insert the subplots in a logical order as they would appear in timeline, and link them to the necessary points in the main plot. The most important point to remember, is that secondary story lines are there to support the main plot, and never compete with it.
Ideally, subplots should flow naturally around the main story, otherwise they would feel contrived. They are woven into the fabric of the story in order to bring various elements together, and are neatly resolved before the conclusion of the main plot. Here are ten techniques used to knit subplots into storylines.
Bookend: As the name suggests, a bookend is a subplot which appears at the beginning and the ending of a novel. After its introduction early on in the plotline, it is then left unmentioned until its resolve and the end of the story.
- Bridge Character: These are secondary or even tertiary characters, whose roles have them connected to two or more plotlines in the story. As their name suggests, the purpose of the bridge character is to serve as a link connecting different plots together.
- Character: A character subplot is a small story exploring various aspects of a character outside of the main plot. It shows how their inner thoughts, feelings and actions connect to or affect the main plot.
- Clue: Clues play a particularly important role in crime, suspense or thriller novels, where the main plot revolves around the solving of a mystery. In these types of stories, subplots can either reveal information the protagonist needs to solve the mystery, or lead them to a dead end.
Isolated Chunk: Also referred to as a story-within-a-story. The isolated chunk is a short tale which takes place within a larger story. These subplots range from a few pages to a full chapter in length, usually beginning and ending within the same chapter before returning to the main narrative.
- Mirror: A mirror subplot shows characters, setting or events that have some sort of opposite aspect as those found in the main plot. The purpose of this type of subplot is to help contrast a certain element in the primary plotline, therefore showcasing its importance.
Parallel Line: A parallel line never touches the main plot, progressing separately before they finally converge at the conclusion of the story. The point of view can switch back and forth between the two events, effectively giving the impression they are both occurring at the same time.
Recurring: Subplots which pop in and out of the main plotline as needed. Recurring plots can take the form of a character, item or event, which appears to serve a special purpose before retreating to the background until further needed.
- Setting: These subplots explore where the storyline takes place and show how it affects the overall plot. Setting subplots cover elements such as the environment, political views, religious beliefs or the timeline of the story.
Swallowtail: Swallowtail stories are composed of one main plot, and another subplot which runs simultaneously to it. Though this subplot runs separately of the main plot for the majority for the story, they will converge on several occasions, sharing components such as characters, locations or events.
In closing, I learned through these various subplots that events in a story do not always need to be straightforward. Adding a few subplots gives a story a little complexity and depth, makes it more realistic and keeps the audience on their toes.
Hope I managed to teach you something new! So until next time!