Writers Write is a writing resource and this post is about the importance of sub-plots. We give you six reasons to use a sub-plot and how to make it work.
When it rains it pours, right? When you have a huge project due at work on Friday, your kids get sick, your car breaks down and your computer dies for no apparent reason. The same thing should happen to your protagonist.
Just because your protagonists must do everything in their power to achieve their goals, it doesn’t mean that it is the only thing they must do. Nothing happens in isolation. That is where the sub-plot comes in.
We don’t just need a plot, we need sub-plots too.
6 Reasons To Use A Sub-Plot
What does a sub-plot do?
- A sub-plot adds to the tension and pace of a story.
- It is a great alternative source of conflict.
- It helps to show your characters as rounded people. Using characters like the friend and the love interest are great for sub-plots. Think whacky best friend or emotionally unstable love interest.
- It can provide comic relief or lightness to a heavy story line or it can add weight to a light- hearted story.
- It can help you to explore or illustrate the theme.
- It can help you increase your word count if you are a few thousand short.
How To Make The Sub-Plot Work
There are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Introduce your sub-plot only after you have introduced your protagonist and antagonist and after you have established the story goal and the threat to that goal.
- The sub-plot must relate to the main plot.
- Make sure the sub-plot doesn’t overshadow your main story. If you are writing a crime novel and 50% of the scenes are dedicated to the detective’s love life, you should reconsider your genre.
- Alternate the sub-plot with your plot regularly. Where and when it fits depends on you and your story.
- Tie up your sub-plots in the third part of your book. Resolve the least important first, but it is a good idea to leave the romantic interest (if there is one) for last. It makes us happy.
- Do not leave a sub-plot unresolved.
- Try to keep your sub-plots down to two. Too many sub-plots spoil the story.
- Choose scenarios that would fit naturally into your protagonist’s life. That is why the friend character and the love interest are great to use. They are already there.
There are as many devices and ideas for sub-plots as there are story ideas. This is the part I plan the least; the sub-plots develop and become clearer as I get to know more about the characters and the story.
by Mia Botha