is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have
run by on their way to incredible destinations. Ray Bradbury, Zen
in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity.
Has your plot thickened to the consistency of a lukewarm beer? The
thickness of your plot is usually measured by the relationship between
the main plot and subplots. Imagine the plot of your story as a bridge
crossing a great ravine. What makes a sturdy bridge are the structural
supports, or in this case, the subplots. Subplots may be subordinate
in nature, but they are essential to give the main story line stregnth
and momentum, they also add complexity to the story and clarify ideas in
its thematic structure.
"The charm, one might say the genius, of memory is that it is choosy, chancy and tempermental; it rejects the edifying cathedral and indelibly photographs the small boy
outside, chewing a hunk of melon in the dust. Elizabeth
How do you create effective subplots? Look at your characters' motives and implied
needs. Create ways in which their motives are supported by their needs.
These needs will be interpreted by the reader, (remember, needs are implied,
not explicit) and relationships will automatically intertwine with other
characters or events. For instance, when writing stories that are ironic
or comic in nature, subplots will try to show how disparate characters
share common bonds or problems. A good subplot will repeat or contrast
an idea or theme throughout the story (without being too conspicuous) and
climax before or after the main climax.
Subplots will sometimes become the main plot
of the story. You may start with a detective story that has a love interest
as a sub plot, and by the end of the work, the love story becomes the main
plot at the climax. Sometimes this happens unintentionally
through the writing process, but many times it is through the manipulation
of the plot/subplots.
Exercise: Write down the main plot of your story in
one sentence. Create a list of the subplots and the characters or
events that are involved with them. Switch the subplots with the
main plot and see what happens to the story's structure, characters' motives,
or events. How is the tension or conflicts structured? Is the main plot
lacking in these elements that can become a driving force in your story?
Create tension in one or more subplots by having the main character fail
at something. How does this relate to the main story? Perhaps your character
is succeeding with the main plot, but he is a failure at love, at work,
or with his family. Reverse the failures. Instead of letting him win in
the end, let him fail, but let the subplots have positive conclusions.
The fail/succeed relation-ship between the main plot and subplots create
a balanced ending in the story.
Add irony to your story by having a character
misinterpret a situation and act upon this misconception. You may want
the readers to be aware of the misconception, or perhaps not. The consequences
of this action can create a twist to the tale.