1. Mesuno
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    Mesuno Member

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    Sub-plots. Who needs em?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Mesuno, Jan 19, 2009.

    Hi folks,

    I've begun to get my head around a novel length plot, set in a fantasy world (see my world building/magic thread).

    Currently it seems to follow a sort of chain of mini-storylines

    He has to go on the run so is fleeing for his life---> he finds out why they are chasing him tries to deal with that ---> etc etc... ---> climax of storyline.

    I'm happy with the overall structure, I'm just a bit worried that I may end up with a one dimensional world - this happens to him, then this happens, he does such and such.

    I'm sure there is space for a second sub-plot, perhaps another character's view point, a different geographical location (different country,same world?) with the potential to cross over later.

    I guess my questions are -
    How do you decide if you need multiple storylines?
    How do you integrate them, if you do eventually integrate them?
    Do they even need integrating?

    One thing I've kind of mulled over is totally distinct storyline, where perhaps we have some kind of eccentric researcher investigating the origins of Stones. Their stories may cross tangentially as they are travelling in the same world, but they have very different climactic scenes. This second storyline could be used to explore/reveal some of the back story which is hidden from the MC, such as what the stones are. This second storyline could even become a prelude to a second novel length episode if handled correctly.
     
  2. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    I just make multiple connected story lines from the get go based on the reality that one event often comprises dozens of stories. I just write a few interesting ones to occupy myself XD. It will depend on the story itself and the complexity of your character relationships. Don't try and present too many at once. Usually I'll have my main story line, and then two-three other branching story lines each of which comprise a few of the characters. I tend to plan more sub-plots and story lines than I can possibly put into a novel, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. You don't have to tell the reader every detail but knowing them yourself can help you write your story and characters.

    Sometimes it's just backstory or a character dealing with their own crap for a chapter or two. Other times it might be a conflict within a conflict specific to certain characters. It depends on the story. In my current work one of the biggest subplots are a growing galactic level civil war and a particular group of soldiers who are dealing with warlords on the southern hemisphere of their planet. The main connection is that these soldiers want to end the wars with the warlords before the expanding civil war pulls their planet into it and they have to fight both (which they don't want). Basically the connection between the two is that they have two wars they don't think they can deal with so they're going to make a push to end one before getting caught up in the other. At the same time, the princess of this planet is torn by the civil war over which side to pick. Will she stay loyal to the king or join the secessionists?

    The way I did it was I considered my plot and its place in the story line and then connect the two story lines together to achieve my goals. Also ask if this subplot needs to be included. My entire subplots are all part of the larger plot and all contribute to the main theme. Don't use plots that won't advance the story in some way or expand on your characters in a meaningful way. As with any story ask yourself "Do I need to include this in the story or can it go unsaid?" Don't force a subplot, otherwise it will show really really badly. You need the connections to be strong and believable and not look like they've been pushed in and stapled to the story.

    I think they should be integrated otherwise you leave the reader wondering why both stories are present. Who reads a book about a baker in New York and a taxi cab driver in Moscow with no connection between the two? Now the level of integration can vary. Maybe your two stories never directly link but rather indirectly effect one another (event wise or theme wise) or maybe the two branching story lines come together for the climax. Again, consider your story lines, characters, and the plot and figure out the best way to put them together and how connected you want them to be. They need not be integrated from the start. They can be completely separate with the reader not seeing connections until the very end.
     
  3. Sunset Sailor
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    Sunset Sailor Member

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    "where perhaps we have some kind of eccentric researcher investigating the origins of Stones"

    ...and make the investigator a hot chick with some sexual tension. I know it sounds crass, but readers love it and it sells books and movies.

    And I agree that you need to integrate the sub plot to the plot.
     
  4. Mesuno
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    Mesuno Member

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    lol - I'm warming to that eccentric researcher already

    So what I gather is that I shouldn't go hunting for more plot - if it is necessary for what I want to achieve it should be obvious. I guess the question then becomes about where the backstory becomes the main storyline... how far do you chase back and explore things in the text, vrs leaving them unsaid, or hinting at them, through the story.

    edit - I guess this has come about because I have a space in the chronology of my story (the MC is undertaking a journey on foot for a couple of weeks). I feel something should happen on this journey but don't know what yet. I kind of feel like it might be a space to introduce a new character, but then the question is who and why.
     
  5. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    I only flesh out backstory if it becomes relevant to the story (though when a build my character I make sure I have every relevant detail set out just because it helps me get a feel for them). It will probably depend on how you've built your characters and how their backstories effect what they're doing and how they interact with others. If it becomes relevant to what's happening in the moment, bring it up. If it matters to something going on between one character and another it might need hinting if it's minor or to be fully mentioned if it is really important.

    When you get down to what goes said and unsaid, it's going to be subjective. You need to look at your story and characters and their relationships and decide what you want to mention. Consider your theme and things that have already happened or that you know will happen to help you decide.
     
  6. Mesuno
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    Mesuno Member

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    Ok - thanks guys. This has been very helpful for getting my head straight on things. I'm gonna start writing something tonight and see where it goes. Perhaps some of that backstory stuff so I can explore some of the characters I haven't worked on yet.
     
  7. Sunset Sailor
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    Have the researcher go on the journey with him, so she can use her wide knowledge to help him overcome obstacles on the journey.

    And as they overcome obstacles have things heat up between them a little - you want to create unrequited sexual tension. You don't want them to actually go through with anything or it will distract from the main plot.

    In third person narrative you can have them slowly noticing how desirable the other is, but they are too busy overcoming obstacles on the journey to be able to do anything about it.
     
  8. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sub plots should be connected to the overall plot as much as possible, but don't force them to be there. You can still have a fully developed world without them for that reason. If you put a subplot in there for the sake of showing the history, it will be obvious that's what you're doing. There are more subtle ways that you can put that stuff in without the reader losing anything about it.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you are writing a novel, you will certainly need subplots. You cannot write something of that magnitude without them. Each plot consists of one actor, one goal or objective, and one or more obstacles to surpass. Don't mistake a storyline for a plot! A stiryline is merely a sequence of events. a plot, or a collection of plots, moves the story along.

    Subplots introduce new complications to the main plot, and also serve to develop characters.

    Subplots that serve to develop character need not be directly connected to the central plot. However, the character growth itself becomes a factor in the main plot, even if it's a peripheral; character you are adding dimension to.

    Still, if the subplot or peripheral character doesn't have some influence on the central plot, you probably should be slicing it out of your story.
     
  10. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I just write the story and subplots fall into place. If one goes trying to force one in (I did try this with a novel once), then it will not work (the one in my novel failed miserably and will be cut out in a rewrite--and I almost NEVER cut from my stories). Subplots are what they are because they tie into the story so closely, one doesn't need to think whether they belong there or not, they just do.

    I realize that with some people, coming up with subplots might not be as natural as it seems for me, but I'm just saying, don't add them simply because you think the story needs them. Add them only if they belong. And don't try to force them in there because they'll stick out like a sore thumb.

    If the story seems one dimensional, then you might just need to mull it over a while longer.
     
  11. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is some great advice in the comments above. I have just one thing to add...

    You said, "I'm happy with the overall structure, I'm just a bit worried that I may end up with a one dimensional world - this happens to him, then this happens, he does such and such."

    It doesn't matter if you have a "one dimensional world" or a great expanse of themes colliding in some complex plot. The story will be as exciting as your writing. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway might be considered a "one dimensional world"...imagine writing an entire novel about a man, a fish and a row boat! But that tale is compelling. Why? The storytelling offers gripping scenes and strong drama as a lone man battles against nature and his own demons. It's all about the writing style.
     

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