The “What is Plot?” Series: Subplots (Part Five)

Photo courtesy of mpclemens.

Thanks for joining me for the fifth and final part of my series known as “What is Plot?” I’ve never done any type of blog series before, but I think this one turned out well for a first-timer. It’s been fun and I hope to be able to do another sometime in the near future. This last part is about subplots, so without further ado, let’s get to it!

It’s no secret that authors sometimes like to tell more than one story within a novel (look at the novels by Elizabeth Kostova). Running alongside the main plot of the story are subplots about the main character (or other characters). Authors use subplots to add suspense/mystery/obstacles to the story they’re telling. A subplot is not just limited to adding suspense/mystery/obstacles, though. Subplots are very good for adding past information (that, actually, is how I’m using a subplot in my own novel).  Traditionally, two types of subplots exist:

  • Hinged: This type of subplot, through the course of the story, becomes part of the main plot.
  • Parallel: In this type of subplot, the story switches between the main plot and a subplot. Here, the details from a subplot can affect the plot. The two are usually used to dramatize each other.

Subplots almost always support the protagonist of your story and should rarely (though, there are exceptions) be introduced at the beginning of a novel. Regina Brooks, author of “Writing Great Books for Young Adults,” has this piece of advice: “Subplots can add layers of complexity to your novel and help add color and story to your characters. But be careful how you use them. Remember they’re subplots—subservient to your main plot. Your main plot should always come first.”

[What this series helpful? How could it be improved? If there is an aspect of writing that you’d like me to cover in a series such as this one, please leave a comment.]