Subplots Can Help
...Or Kill It
What to know before
you start typing
you start typing
Sub-plots can be exciting
when well executed...
I like an interesting sub-plot that helps the main story and moves it along, tying in nicely with the main plot at the end. A good sub-plot can also help with pacing. I will do this myself, and labor hard at making everything work together.
If it doesn’t…it gets cut. On the other hand, I have seen plenty of writers build a sub-plot that doesn’t go anywhere or accomplish anything.
Don’t do it. Just don't.
First, though, an example...
Below is an example of a character sub-plot from the first half of my novel, Tip of the Spear. Max Robespierre, who has been dead since 1794, is explaining to Sabine, our hero, that at one time he was a very bad dude during the French Revolution.
“I was so unbelievably arrogant. I continued to attack God, and I knew better – I really did. It seemed I couldn’t help myself, though, getting caught up in the moment. I even forced the Catholic Church to stop recognizing Sunday with a new calendar. Can you imagine? Then my countrymen condemned me to the guillotine. I was sent to Hell, naturally.”
That answered a few questions, and raised more. “I didn’t know that.”
“You’re the first person I’ve ever told. Anyhow, God….well, He came down and offered me a job. I was thunderstruck, to say the least. I asked Him why He wanted me after all I’d done. Father God said – and I quote – I see something in you that no one else does. You have a great purpose ahead of you. End quote.”
The infallible Max Robespierre was starting to grow on me. “Have you discovered what that purpose is yet?”
Max shook his head. “Nope. But I work every single day hoping to find out.”
The character Max, who in real life was responsible for the deaths of 40,000 French - including Marie Antoinette - has just explained that God’s redemption can extend all the way down into Hell if need be.
The scene below is from the very end of the book, and our intrepid Wallis Kocepk - a damned soul that redeemed himself quite well - has been sent back to Hell.
It didn’t matter now. Kocepk smiled to himself. At least he had a few pleasant memories to keep him company down here in Hell.
He was surprised when someone cleared their throat behind him.
Kocepk stood slowly and turned around.
“Hello, Wallis. Have you got a moment?”
In case you haven’t put it together…that’s God talking. God Himself came down to get Wallis Kocepk. This thread - as you can see - was set up earlier by Max Robespierre. That thread was tied together by one spoken sentence, the one you see above.
When a reader is presented with a well-executed sub-plot that causes them to hug your book to their chest and sniffle back a tear….well, you just hit the jackpot, baby.
Like a good movie, your novel needs to be in three parts. An exciting beginning, a rock solid center, and a dazzling third act that makes readers drool for more.
The opening is really important, actually ‘important’ isn’t the best word. Crucial works much better. I hope you’ve noticed the huge changes in comedy, movies and TV over the past twenty years. The same goes for novels - maybe even more so.
It’s those opening pages that reels them in. Like I said before, you’ve got three pages to lock your reader in a bear-trap.
People don’t need your book to be entertained; they have tons of fun things to choose from, all at their fingertips. You have three pages to excite them. Bore those readers in the first three pages of your novel and I promise you they’ll go elsewhere for enjoyment.
I recently checked out the opening of a new book, and the first three pages described the basement of a house and the furniture it contained - with several paragraphs just for a couch. I felt sorry for the writer, because in his head, that was the most interesting opening he could think of.
Don’t make the same mistake.
I like a thought-provoking sub-plot. I think a good sub-plot can have main or minor characters that drive the story in new and fresh directions, and add to the overall enjoyment of the tale.
On the other hand, I have seen sub-plots that didn’t go anywhere, and either ruined or nearly ruined a perfectly good novel.
Take time in constructing your sub-plot, if you choose to have one, and be well aware that sub-plots are superb for slowing down a fast-moving story. If your novel already moves at a glacial pace - which isn’t always a bad thing - a sub-plot should possibly be reconsidered.
I have also observed sub-plots that had nothing to do with the main story being told, and for that, I have no answer. A sub-plot should not only be connected to the main story, it should complement it and tie together at the end of the book in some fashion that satisfies the reader.
In my novel She is My anger, there are two minor players that interact with God, Beach Neilson and Jordan Ryce. These two damaged characters don’t meet each other until the climatic ending. Then the reader learns that not only were these kids perfect for each other, but also that God is a very sneaky matchmaker.
And those two interesting sub-plots are tied together at the end, with a twist.
Oh, the twist? I haven’t told you the twist, read the book….just to see if you can spot it coming.
When I plan a sub-plot, I go for the emotional draw. I want my reader to laugh while crying, overcome with emotion in that moment. For me at least, that’s the whole point of a good sub-plot, to bring lovable characters together for a satisfying ending that changes lives forever.
That is what your readers want, and that is what you should give them.
I know it’s a cliché, but your reader really wants a happy ending. They desire the best for your hero, as well as the minor characters that you’ve developed.
By the same token, your reader wants the villain to get his comeuppance….usually in a very satisfying way.
A Quick Note About Drug Use,
Current Slang, and Curse Words
I can’t really comment about writing in a character that uses drugs….I know…totally uncool. But I have never used drugs, and despise references to drug use in movies or books. I once had to create a heroin-addicted character for a novel….and had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. I apologize for not being more in touch with this subject, but seriously, I haven’t even smoked pot.
The biggest and best reason not to use current slang words or phrases? They won’t always be current. Period. In five years will anyone know what a ‘choad’ is? Stick with the funny stuff, like ‘dawg’ or ‘sick’, but use it in a condescending way that transcends time. Just kidding. Avoid slang at all costs.
As for cursing, I think it should be kept sparse. I know that we humans curse quite a bit in the real world….but I think it will only detract from your book. Hell, I’m not saying keep it completely clean. Just space it out. My character Andrea Moss has a mouth like a sailor…but only when stressed.
Use a little common sense and remember the audience you are trying to reach.
What are you
reading right now?