Why Your Novel Needs A Subplot | BookDaily #AuthorTips
Written by: June Trop
What’s a subplot? A subplot is a secondary story line that develops alongside the main plot. Ordinarily short stories, stories under 30,000 words, do not have a subplot. Novels, stories over 50,000 words, on the other hand, do. In fact, novels often have more than one.
Why is a subplot important? A subplot adds breadth, depth, or complexity to a story. Inasmuch as life itself is multifaceted rather than linear, a subplot can enhance the verisimilitude of your story. But to do that, the subplot must be a relevant and natural accompaniment to the main plot, the result of the characters’ actions, interactions, and experiences. A subplot can also slow the pace of the main plot. It can throw obstacles in the protagonist’s path and thereby complicate the story. And it can prolong suspense by interrupting the action of the main plot.
What kinds of subplots are there? Some subplots affirm an aspect of the main plot, such as its conflict or theme. In Chiam Potok’s THE CHOSEN, the main character and a minor character struggle with the same quandary of incorporating their father’s religion into their own lives. So a minor character echoes the conflict of the main character. In TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, the subplot affirms the theme of the main plot, that both misunderstood characters, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley, are innocent and, like mockingbirds, should not be killed.
Other subplots serve as a contrast to some aspect of the main plot. For example, in ANNA KARENINA, the direction of Levin’s fate is juxtaposed with Anna’s, making hers all the more tragic. Similarly, in Salman Rushdie’s MIDNIGHT CHILDREN, the ups and downs of the protagonist’s fate run counter to the antagonist’s.
In my own novel THE DEADLIEST HATE, the course of love for Miriam and Judah is made all the more poignant by its contrast with Phoebe and Bion’s. Romance is not the main issue in the novel, the recovery of an alchemical recipe, but the subplot illuminates the characters and provides a rationale for their actions.
How can you insert a subplot? Write the first draft of your novel without any subplots. Writing that first draft is your opportunity to come to know your main story line. Only then can you create a significant subplot. Next, write out a series of scenes and what has to happen in each to move the subplot forward. After that, insert each scene into your draft with an eye toward varying the pace of your main plot. Just don’t let the subplot overwhelm the main plot.
So to answer the question: Yes, you need at least one subplot to enhance the characters, theme, or main plot of your novel and control its pace.
About the Author:
June Trop and her twin sister Gail wrote their first story, “The Steam Shavel [sic],” when they were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. They sold it to their brother Everett for two cents.
Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she devotes her time to writing historical mysteries with a connection to early science. Her heroine, Miriam bat Isaac, is based on the personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.
June lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, where she is breathlessly recording the story of her plucky heroine’s next life-or-death exploit.