Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day 19: A Study in Subplots

I know, I know.... but YOU try coming up with a good picture to represent subplots.  Can't be done, I tell you.
Subplots: they can be tricky little devils to master, but when given proper time and attention can move your story from merely entertaining to memorable.  In his article Deepen Your Plot, James Scott Bell cites subplots as a way to push the novel's theme without slowing down the action of the main plot.  He says:
"A subplot can be primarily thematic, concerned with what the lead character needs to learn. While the outer action of the main plot is going on, causing all sorts of problems for the lead, the thematic subplot focuses on issues that are personal and interior."
Take, for example, one of the main characters from Kathryn Stockett's wildly popular book The Help.  Minny has a lot to worry about, having crossed the town's socialite Hilly Holbrook, but we also learn that the  sass-mouthin', pie-making lady we love has a husband that beats her and whom she actually fears.  Would the overall story be significantly altered if Minny's husband were kind or even nonexistent?  No, (that's our clue that it's a subplot) but without it we wouldn't have the chance to see the way she finally learns that lines she considered to be etched in stone were merely drawn in sand.  It is watching her ideas shift as she learns to care for Skeeter and Celia Foote that makes Minny's journey through the novel memorable.  After we close the book we keep thinking about what it was that made her realize she didn't need to submit to her husband, and perhaps we even go so far as to consider what roles or relationships we may have falsely relegated ourselves to.

Of course deepening your novel's theme is not the only use for subplots.  Victoria Lynn Schmidt offers six other applications of subplots on page 148 of her book Book In a Month:
  • supporting and advancing the main storyline
  • revealing character
  • mirroring the main storyline in a smaller way
  • creating conflict and complications for the main storyline
  • evoking emotions in readers
  • relieving tension for readers (especially in the horror genre -- readers need a break now and then).
Okay, you all get it, subplots are important.  Worrying about subplots while writing a novel in 30 days?  Not so important.  You should have a general idea of where you want them to go, but don't focus a lot of time or energy writing them because subplots are often the first things to be changed when working on draft two.  That said, it's hard not to think about exciting twists or deepened themes as we're racing along Act II of our novels.  For those of you ahead of schedule you may well want to delve into subplots a bit more, but for the rest of us we'll have to content ourselves with writing our fabulous ideas down and trucking forward.  Those who are still struggling with subplots may want to take a look at the Subplot Brainstorm Worksheet (scroll down to page 271). 

How have your subplot brainstorms been going?  Have you already had to change and rearrange your subplot ideas a few times?

MY DAY 19:  This was one of those days where my subplots began transforming which brought a whole new level of excitement and enthusiasm to my writing.  And as always, when I'm having a good time with my writing I make a lot of progress.

No comments:

Post a Comment