Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Subplots


 Just yesterday on Writer Unboxed, Dave King wrote:
So how do you bring your secondary characters to more convincing life?  One exercise that can help is to rewrite key scenes from the point of view of one of the more minor characters.  Even though those scenes won’t wind up in the final draft, they force you into the heads of your supporting actors so you can see what your major plot developments look like to them.
So how do you hit the right balance between making your minor characters people and making them behave themselves so you can write your story?
Subplots are one way to do it.  Humanize your secondary characters by giving them their own, independent plot threads not really connected to the main plot.  This lets you people your novel with living human beings without overly complicating your story.

Another way to fold your secondary characters into your story is to have your climax – the moment when the hero’s story resolves – also mean something to the minor characters.  If a single event wraps up everyone’s stories at once, then what came before is going to feel more coherent.  And you can make the characters’ various stories feel more independent if the climax means something slightly different to all of them. talks about using Scrivener:
Looking at Subplots in Isolation.
Scrivener also allows you to select a group of documents (such as all the events pertaining to one subplot) and display them as if they were one document, in the proper order. This allows you to check the flow within a subplot or throughline. You could “scriven” together all the scenes involving one character, to get a better feel of his arc. Or you could scriven the entire manuscript so it appears as one long document.
I also recommend you see Jenny Cruisie's Plot and Subplot post:


In Writer's Digest John Grisham says:

"In crafting a strong middle, however, you have to avoid falling into the risky trap of subplots. Though they can keep the action going, it’s easy for subplots to wander off and become distracting. The reader gets confused, losing track of where the book is going and puts it down. Grisham calls meandering subplots “detours,” taking the reader off the main road of the plot. For example, a writer can veer off about Grandma’s marvelous pie-making skills, which she learned from a German chef who cooked for Kaiser Wilhelm and the German ruler who had his botanists develop a special strain of apples that yadda, yadda, yadda. The novel is about a young actress who gets a huge part in a new play but the author is ranting on about the Kaiser’s apples."


The March 25, 2015 post by Janice Hardy says:

"Subplots have a way of taking over novels. They steal all the action, distract the protagonist, or in the worst cases, shine brighter than the actual plot. Good subplots enhance the story, support the theme, brighten what’s already there, while a bad subplot tries to smother it in its sleep with a pillow."

The post also includes 3 questions to ask yourself about your subplots to see if they the cement shoes on your story.

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