Seizing those Slippery Subplots

So, subplots. If you’re anything like me, you probably forgot all about these until you were halfway through your story and then realized it’s good to let the minor characters have something to do.


Let’s take a couple steps back. Why are subplots integral to your story?

  1. Supporting characters become more multidimensional and grow and change, having a character arc of their own.
  2. Humorous breaks from a serious plot OR serious pauses in a humorous novel. Think Merry and Pippin’s shenanigans to the more serious overall tone of the Lord of the Rings novels.
  3. If your writing tends to be on the short side or overly simplistic, it adds complexity, depth, and more words.

Now that we’ve covered that, how do you add the right subplots to your story, so it feels like a natural extension of the plot rather than you trying to place a hula skirt on the Statue of Liberty? (Weird analogy, I know.)

Here are some tips to help you add subplots into your story!

  1. Take a very close look at all your supporting characters. Are they given roles of their own and growing throughout the story, or are they introduced a couple times but don’t seem to have much to do? If it’s the second, that may be a sign to add a subplot involving them.
  2. Look for those characters. You know, the ones that scream ‘mystery’ from a mile away. Add in backstory for them in little snippets throughout the book! Your readers will love learning more about the (wo)man behind the mask, and it’ll help keep them hooked. (Bonus points if it’s the villain’s backstory.. and it’s NOT a complete sob story and the villain’s NOT saying this to the hero!)
  3. Add in a romantic relationship. This is probably the easiest one in the books, which is why I would caution you to avoid cliches. The two most common are ‘so happy, never fights’ and ‘always fighting’.Come on, people! Let’s find something more in the middle, and have a couple with all the ups and downs of a real relationship.
  4. Read your novel all the way through. Ever feel like you’ve read a spot where it’s ‘sparse’? And needs some action? Write all those areas down in their proper context to the flow of the story. Now then. Could one character fill in those holes with some action? Is it an existing character or should you create someone new? Be careful about the ‘Deus ex machina’ feeling you could bring, but if there really is someone who could fill the gaps, then don’t shy away from creating that character.

Good luck, everyone!

Rebecca M.

Discussion: What subplots have you written in your books? What’s one of your favorite subplots you’ve read? 

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