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.