How to Add Subplots

How to Add Subplots
December 16, 2016 No Comments » For Authors, Writing Advice J.K. Allen

If your story is lacking depth, it could do with a subplot or two. Subplots are plot lines that work alongside of the main plot to complicate your story and add layers to your story. A romantic interest is the most common subplot, but definitely not the only one you can use. Let’s look closer at subplots.

First, you want to make sure your subplot isn’t taking over your main plot. It’s meant to compliment your main conflict, not overpower it. If you’re having difficulty paring down a subplot while also struggling to write your main plot line, maybe you should switch the two. For instance if you’re writing a fantasy story, but the romance aspect seems to be taking over, maybe you should write a romance instead of a fantasy story with a romantic subplot. You also don’t want to have too many subplots going on. This makes your story lose focus and threatens to overwhelm your readers. You should stick to just a few subplots to not overcomplicate things.  Also, you want your subplot to serve a purpose. Even if a subplot is telling a good story, it doesn’t mean it fits in with your main plot line. It should add to characterization (whether that’s for your main characters or your minor characters), impact the main plot, or develop the theme.

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Decide which characters really need a POV. Your antagonist may be a good candidate, but not every character should have their own POV. Especially if it’s only used once. Choose the best character for the action and one you want readers to have a better understanding of.

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Any subplots you add must be resolved by the end of the story. If you’re writing a series, this may not apply to all your plot lines, but you should resolve most of them by the end of the book. You want your readers to be satisfied and they expect resolution.

Subplots should serve as a foil to the main plot.

So if you’re writing a really dramatic scene, have a lighthearted subplot to relieve some tension. If you’re writing a comedy, have a more serious subplot to intersperse between the comedic moments. Add or relieve tension as needed.

Subplots should also be independent story lines. You want to weave them together with other subplots and the main plot line, but they shouldn’t get muddled together. Your main plot line should stand on its own without the subplots, though it should be weaker without them.

Questions to ask yourself about your subplot:

  • Who is this about? Does this character POV add to the story or distract from it?
  • Is this character’s POV important?
  • Does the character’s POV affect the plot?
  • Is the subplot a mirror for the main plot or a foil?
  • How does this subplot intersect with the main plot line?
  • How much time are you devoting to this subplot? If it’s taking up too much page time, you should reevaluate what your story is about.
  • How does this subplot interpret your theme? Does it add to its meaning?
  • Does it add or relieve tension?
  • How does this subplot affect the main plot line? What does it change? What is the impact?

Ultimately each subplot should serve a purpose and strengthen the overall story. If it doesn’t add anything, cut it.

What are your best practices for writing subplots? Share below and happy writing!


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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.

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