Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Importance of Subplot

By Michelle Gwynn Jones

Whether it is a desire to learn how to sail or teaching Messapian, subplots add depth to your characters and layers to the novel. A subplot can be about anything in the main character’s (MC) personal or professional life.

Using subplots makes your MC seem real. Most people have more than one thing going on in their life at a time, so should the people that live in your novel. For example: you can write a novel about a woman (MC) and a man in a ten-year marriage, their desire to have a child and the difficulties they encounter reaching that goal. Could that take up the eighty or so thousand words one need to put in a novel? Sure it could, but it would most likely be really drawn out and boring, a MC whose only interest in life is a child.

Now imagine a subplot added in where the husband has a child he has never told his wife about and the child is only six years old. Add to that another subplot in which the wife’s single cousin is extremely disappointed to find out that she is pregnant. While the reader is still interested in the outcome of the main story, there is something else to read about while we wait for her latest test results.

A subplot can be either parallel to or interwoven with the main plot.

Parallel subplots can be the simplest to write. Often it involves a character other than MC who somehow is involved in the MC’s life. The cousin in the storyline above could be a wonderful example of this kind of subplot. The MC finds herself having to be supportive while her cousin decides whether or not to continue her pregnancy, while she shows the family the sonogram of the baby growing inside of her and as she opens presents at the baby shower thrown by the MC. Regardless of what decisions the cousin makes the subplot does not affect the main storyline, the desire of the MC and her husband to have a child.

In contrast, an interwoven subplot has a direct effect on the main storyline, how it ends is crucial. If instead of choosing to have her baby and raise it herself, the cousin decides that the best thing that can happen is for the MC and her husband to raise the child. The subplot is interwoven with the desire of the MC and her husband. Because of its direct bearing on the story, the interwoven subplot is much harder to write then the parallel one.

No matter how many subplots your work has they each have to be a complete story on their own, with a beginning, middle and end.

It is important for the writer to remember that the subplot must be subordinate to the main plot and never let it take over the story.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Point of View

By Monet M. Jones

I think POV is a lot of BS. Let me clarify that statement. I think strict adherence to a particular Point of View when writing a novel is as useless as Broom Straw.

Understand me; a field of broom straw undulating in a light breeze is a beautiful thing. I remember running with my brother through such fields as a youngster. My brother and I thought the waist high grass was wonderful. However, after stumbling over hidden roots in one and almost stepping on a snake in another; we concluded broom straw looks good but hides important details.

I agree that when defining a scene it is important to use a strict point of view. However confining one’s depiction of a story to the insight of a single character simply because some nebulous “they” has decided one should is BS; those letters may not mean Broom Straw in this instance.

I recently reread Of Mice and Men and thought it would have been a shame if Steinbeck had read his story to a writer’s workshop. He told the story his way. So much dimension would have been lost if he had slavishly observed a restrictive narrative mode.

I have decided that henceforth I will use third person omniscient as my usual writing point of view. This should resolve any conflicts about a narrative mode and of course make my writing more like that of Steinbeck.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Writer


I was born in Scripts Hospital in San Diego California. I met the love of my life in Poway at the age of three. My parents moved to South Carolina when I was four years old, and I have not seen her since.

I traveled aboard the research vessel World Discoverer to the far off continent of Antarctica at the age of seventeen. At 20 I was struck by CSD which, after incorrectly prescribed antibiotics cleared my system of the bacteria's natural competitors, put me into a coma. I was left hospitalized for a few weeks. I could barely walk upon recovery and had lost many of my motor skills, including the ability to play piano.

I have since recovered, and have played piano professionally for the bar Speak Easy and for the restaurant Thai Lotus.

I have competed in two cage style MMA events, and was fortunate enough to win both of them.

At the age of 29 I decided to pursue my longtime dream of becoming a writer, and have since published a couple of stories in the small press Sci-Fi pulp magazines OG's Speculative Fiction and M-brane SF.

In 2013 I plan to take a two year sabbatical to pursue writing in earnest, and hope to make a career of it. Wish me luck!

The Delayed Drop

By Shaun McCoy


You've seen this before. It's worse than a stereotype. You could even call it a trope (the dirtiest of all words):


It's a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western and some cowboy has just burst into the bar. You can hear his spurs chinking as he walks across the wooden floor boards. He confronts the bartender and asks for something to drink. It's going to be whisky. They always want whiskey.

The bartender's eyes widen, he's seen something, something important. But what? He pours the whiskey shot in silence as the camera picks up epic close-ups of the unshaven and pock-marked faces of the clientele.

As the cowboy lifts up his drink we see… the music swells… he has manacles about his wrists.


That was what Leone called a delayed drop, and that particular one has gotten more play than a Best of Queen CD.

As hesitant as I am to take conventions of one storytelling medium and place them in another, the delayed drop is perfect for writing. Leone used the narrowed perspective of a camera to achieve his delayed drops, but writers have even more freedom. We can show an epic landscape in 3D and still leave out the one important detail that will shock the reader into exuberance.

Using a delayed drop is as simple as thinking about cause and effect. The writer can create suspense, surprise, or wonder in a reader by showing the effect before the cause.

Now go ahead, you haven't seen this one before:


"I'm too old for this sh*&!t," the damsel muttered to herself before calling down from the tower in a frightened voice, "Save me! Save me!"

She could feel her room shaking from the final heartbeats of the slain dragon, each quake softer than the last, as the silver armored knight guided his white stallion to the base of her tower.

The knight removed his shiny helmet, revealing the face of an exuberant boy.

"Jeffries, is that you?" she shouted, her eyes opened wide.

"Hi mom!"


A delayed drop can spice up many a dull action scene and can be a vital tool in your storytelling. It also helps build a consistent reality in your work. One of the first things we learn as children is that events occur because of causes. The more cause and effect relationships you can create, the stronger your illusion of reality will be. If your character eats lasagna, they should get heartburn. If they eat Taco Bell… well you get the idea. Otherwise, readers will get the sneaking suspicion that things are happening for the purpose of the plot, and it's probably best we never tell them that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Tale of a Girl Named Chicken

By Amanda Simays

Recently at the middle school where I work, my fellow volunteers and I started after-school clubs — Hip Hop Aerobics, Photography, Travel, and Creative Writing/Word Games. Guess which club had the least amount of sign-ups?

Yup. My club, Creative Writing. And the ones who did stick it out were much more interested in the word games (Mad Libs, Hangman, etc.) than anything that involved actually putting a pen to paper.

Maybe it’s to be expected at the middle school level, but very few of the students I work with would put “writing” and “fun” in the same sentence. I know a few kids who keep journals or write raps — and the art of passing notes and texting in class is still thriving — but for the most part, writing is viewed as schoolwork drudgery, on par with memorizing Civil War dates and calculating the slope of a line.

I’m trying to fight this attitude. A few weeks ago, I pulled four of my tutees out of class at the same time, handed them their notebooks, and told them to write the beginning of a story. They stared at me blankly.

“You can write anything,” I said. “You just have to write.”

I had my own notebook with me so I could model what I was talking about. I started writing a silly story about two boys who went fishing and caught a mermaid. Tentatively, the other girls started to write too.

“Switch!” I said suddenly, and I made everyone pass her notebook to the left. Gradually, they caught on to what I was getting at, and they also realized that I really meant it when I said that they could write about absolutely anything. When one girl complained that I didn’t give out enough candy, I told her to put that in the story if that’s what was on her mind. Sure enough, she had her character (running through the woods to escape a crazed farmer with an ax) encounter Ms. Amanda there in the forest, eating candy and not sharing with anyone.

Soon the girls turned from whining about having to write to being completely absorbed in the activity, silently scribbling except for the occasional giggle and the periodic shout of “Switch!” By the time the bell rang, we had created five collaborative stories. One girl wrote about a high school romance. Another student wrote about a seven-year-old girl named Chicken who was also “shaped like a chicken.” Were they literary masterpieces? Not really. But the point was to get the students writing, feeling free to put their thoughts into words on paper without worry of being graded or judged.

As a tutor, I have to spend most of my time focusing on the practical side of academic writing, but I’m still convinced that content organization and conventions will be easier to develop if I can foster that spark of enthusiasm for writing first.