Friday, August 8, 2014

Send In the Clowns or Subplot: the Comedia del Arte Model

Subplots, up to this point, had always been all of the drama going on OUTSIDE of a book that kept me from finishing said book. Whether I was reading or writing.

However. I will echo KAK's appreciation of James's post because given the levels of complication I seem determined to pack into a single novel, I'm well acquainted with subplots. I just didn't know it.

Coming from an acting background, I had the Comedia del Arte definition of subplot fixed in my head. Comedia del Arte plays are structured around archetypical characters: the miserly old merchant, the gruff soldier who's really a coward, the fool, the lovers, ad infinitum. Usually, if a play followed the trials of a pair of lovers overcoming obstacles to being together, that couple and their relationship would be portrayed seriously (but it's Comedia and not opera - so HEA guaranteed there). However, the play would also likely include *another* couple as a subplot. They faced the same challenges to their relationship, but they're slightly ridiculous. The situations they face are silly. Comedic. Clownish. This couple isn't guaranteed an HEA. Depends on the show. The point is contrast and heightened emotional investment. The theory was that if we could get you to laugh at the silly couple, the plight of the serious couple sneaks up on you and wallops you over the head. Maybe that only worked in 16th century Italy and France.

It was from that standpoint that I'd been approaching subplots - that a subplot was a storyline that ran in parallel with my main story, but that didn't directly involve my main character(s). If that definition holds, I don't currently do subplots. I have my hands too full of ALL THE THINGS going on in my main plot. Hey. Do you think I could shoehorn this kitchen sink into the conflict?

But if James's definition of backstory = unresolved conflict feeding current drive = story thread to be resolved (or failed) in parallel with main story action, well then I'm there. That said, though, I'd like to try plotting in a secondary character's story. Just to see if I can pull it off.

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