Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Subplots...what more important: compare or contrast? NEITHER!
"A subplot is still a plot. ... Who among your secondary characters is sufficiently sympathetic and faces conflicts that are deep, credible, complex, and universal enough to be worth developing?" --Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel, pg. 182
After you have an answer to that question, you have to decide if this subplot will compare or contrast the main plotline. Both are viable options. What's more important than whether or not subplot is a redux or an opposite representation of the main plot, however, is: what impact it has on the main plotline.
None, you say? -facepalm- Pick another character. The subplot has to impact the main plot, or else it's just fluff. Maybe you like fluff. That's okay...but tension turns pages.
EXAMPLE: John and Mary are a young couple who find out they are pregnant. Mary's parents are sooo focused on her little sister getting into college and Mary purposely got pregnant in effort to get some attention for herself.
SUBPLOT: Mary confides in her neighbor, a young gay man who is working nights at a diner and putting together a portfolio to get into art college.
Sure, he'll have some encouraging things to say to his friend, but these paths are separating, not intersecting.
BETTER EXAMPLE: Let's say Mary is nineteen and an only child. Her mother, Ann, is sad and withdrawn because her husband, Bill, left years ago and she's never gotten over it, mostly because Uncle Joe is a pastor who blames Ann for Bill leaving and he harps on her about it every day. She's depressed, and while religion and faith are meaningful to Ann, Joe isn't being the supportive and loving servant of God she needs him to be. Because of all that, Mary is hesitant to tell her mom she's in trouble.
SUBPLOT: Uncle Joe's daughter, Amy, only fifteen, confides in Mary that she is pregnant...
Now, Mary has to help Amy cope and isn't sure how to cope herself. What if Joe finds out and makes an appointment to forcibly make Amy get an abortion so people won't think less of him? What if Amy runs away before the appointment because she wants to keep the baby? What if Joe think's Mary is hiding Amy? OOooo....so many what ifs!
Can you say tension? Wow. Now we have a subplot that has bite, one where we can see the dilemma's growing in Mary's life because of how the individual stories overlap. Compare the youthful pregnancy, contrast the parental reactions.
Consider this: broaden the scope of the story with a dash of social pecking order. How does all this deepen if one side of the family is wealthy and the other isn't?
I bet your first thought was to make the pastor and his family rich, and make the single mom and daughter poor. Right?
What if it was the other way around? POOF! There's the reason Joe lays the religion on thick--he's jealous. It's his way of getting back at Ann. POOF! Character development.
And what about theme? There is a clear theme emerging in the few sentences of the second example while there is none to discern in the first example.
Posted by Linda Robertson
I'm the author of the Persephone Alcmedi series: VICIOUS CIRCLE, HALLOWED CIRCLE, FATAL CIRCLE, ARCANE CIRCLE, WICKED CIRCLE, AND SHATTERED CIRCLE, several short stories, and the upcoming novel JOVIENNE.