This week’s video analyzes the purpose and necessity of subplots. Does your story have too many or not enough?
We’re always hearing about subplots. But what exactly are they? And does your story really need them? In a nutshell, a subplot is just a miniature plot that features a sideline story. If your story is about an escaped convict who’s trying to prove his innocence, your main plot is going to be his escape, his evasion of capture, and his attempts to find the evidence that will clear his name. Subplots might include his renewed rocky relationship with an old flame. Or his cover as a Little League coach who becomes a mentor to a young player with a bad family life. In short, a subplot is something generally unrelated to the thrust of the main plot. It’s something that if you deleted it, the main plot itself would change little, if at all.
So, second question: Do you need subplots? The short answer is no. As I just pointed out, subplots aren’t crucial to your story. In fact, too many subplots or the wrong kind of subplots can easily water down your main plot and theme and end up distracting the reader. However, the longer and more complicated answer is, yes, you do need subplots. And here’s why. Subplots deepen the scope of your story and allow you to explore more facets of both your character and your setting. In our escaped convict example, we’re likely to learn a lot of interesting things about the protagonist through his interactions with both his old flame and the little boy.
The trick is to choose our subplots wisely and use them to reinforce pertinent character traits and themes. Without subplots, we’re likely to end up with not only a very short book, but also one that’s one dimensional. Our story needs a tight focus on the primary plot. But if we tighten that focus to the point that we exclude every other possible aspect of the character’s life, we’re missing a lot of good stuff. More importantly, we’re missing all kinds of opportunities to let the reader get to know the characte better—and, hopefully, sympathize with him and root for him in his overall quest.