1. PaulGresham
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    PaulGresham Member

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    Problem with sub plots

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by PaulGresham, Apr 17, 2014.

    I finished writing my novel and everything was fine - then I discovered that I needed sub plots!
    The problem was, the novel was too short, and the general advice was to create sub plots to make it longer, and\or write more description.
    I created a few sub plots but now have the problem of where to insert them in the main story.
    I've more or less worked out that the characters in the sub plot and the scenes in which they feature appear and re-appear at various points in the main story.
    To be more specific, I had one sub plot scene in chapter 5 and another sub plot scene in chapter 10. This is quite a distance away, and I wonder if readers will find it difficult to connect the second sub plot scene with the first.
    To remedy this I've briefly reminded them what happened in the first scene.
    Does anyone have any views about the optimum distance between sub plot scenes, if there is an optimum distance?
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Who are the subplots connected to? Usually subplots are connected to a character and when they show up the subplot shows up. So I don't know if I'd keep too long a distance from mentioning that character or the reader will forget about him/her.
     
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  3. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    How long the subplot scene is also matters; 8000 wd. chapter on a set of characters will take longer to forget. Adding a subplot for the sake of meat to a story might bore the reader, though. Go with what feels right.
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, I struggle with the concept of subplots—in the sense that I feel every one needs to influence the main plot. It's hard to separate them out.

    Each person in a subplot pursues their own agenda, but the events and outcome of these subplots should influence the outcome of the main story arc. You pull a subplot and the story falls to bits in certain areas.

    I'm not sure what would happen if you just stuck subplots in after the fact, just to make your story 'longer.'

    If you're going to do this, I think you need to think very carefully about how these subplots actually AFFECT your story arc. If they don't, they're just going to feel tacked-on.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2014
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  5. PaulGresham
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    PaulGresham Member

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    The sub plots are connected to a couple of the main characters, and they extend the nature of these characters - we find out more about them, and they add to the theme of the main plot, so the sub plots are structurally sound, they aren't just page fillers.
    It's the gap between the scenes in these sub plots that is the problem.
    I think there must be an optimum point for this, but I can't find it.
    I've now decided that 5 chapters is the maximum distance between scenes in the sub plots.
    In my case, these chapters are quite short, though.
    I think if the chapters were let's say 3000 words long 5 chapters would be too long.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Best thing to do is to give your draft MS to a couple of beta readers. See what they say. Have they forgotten the subplot characters by the time they resurface?

    If so, you might want to create a particularly unforgettable scene to get the subplot started—and make sure the names will stick. That way the reader will not only remember the character/situation, but will actually be looking forward to reading more about them.
     
  7. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I agree. If you have a big distance between subplots, then can you think of any reason for the MC's to think about or discuss the characters from the subplots that when keep said characters in the middle of the readers minds so that when the subplot comes to the forefront, the reader knows who they are. Like, if the subplot concerns an ex of one of the MC's, maybe midway through, the MC can have a discussion or an argument about them.

    One thing I hate, is when there is a subplot there but as a reader, I am left thinking "where the hell did that just come from?"
     
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The way I try to handle this is to make the subplot a memorable one, so the reader won't need to be reminded throughout. If it's a character we meet early on, but won't see again until near the end, make them memorable. Make what they say or do have impact. Something unusual, or something that leaves a big impression. That doesn't mean it has to be high drama, but just noteworthy enough to stick.

    I think if the MC or other characters constantly TALK about the subplot or character, it might water down the impact if you were planning a bit of a surprise near the end. It would certainly keep the subplot in the forefront of the reader's mind, though, so it would work from that perspective.

    You won't know if any of this works until you've finished your story and got a few people to read it. If they're confused — where the hell did that just come from? — then you'll need to go back and re-work the subplot, beef it up a little.
     
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