1. Ritrezer
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    Ritrezer Member

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    Subplots?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Ritrezer, May 4, 2014.

    Does your work have a subplot? Or have you ever done a subplot? What do you think of them in general? Better to avoid them ?or risk it and put 'em in? And if you are doing one or have done it before- How was/is the experience?
    I find them them to be tricky and linking them to the main plot is quite hard.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. Most novels I've read have them, and I don't find them difficult at all. They are an excellent device for fleshing out a character, controlling timing and in general adding depth to the story. Hard to imagine a quality novel without one.
     
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Ed. I can't imagine a good novel without at least one, but more usually you see two or even three subplots. It's all a part of the same premise, same message, but from different perspectives. The best way to link them is to look at the main issue you are exploring. I'll give you an example of a movie 'Surrogates'. The overall plot deals with the impact these surrogate robots have on the society, but in the subplot, the protagonist is dealing with the effects the surrogate robots have on him and his family personally. Here, the 'surrogates', as both physical entities and a concept, connect the two, but you can do the same with a theme. If your theme is a betrayal on a social level, one of the subplots can deal with a personal betrayal. Don't make it terribly obvious, and make sure it contributes to the overall story, but analysing your themes and a message you want to convey, can offer inspiration.

    My novels always have subplots. I generally have three point of view characters, and all of them have their own stories and agendas they pursue, as they move along towards the overall story goal.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2014
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  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto the ditto... subplots are an integral part of most [if not all] novels... aside from the length, it's how a novel differs from a short story...
     
  5. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    I agree that subplots are important, particularly in longer works. I'd have to also agree that they can be tricky. In a different thread I'm talking about timing problems I've been having in my current WIP. The problems seem to stem from the main plot and subplot being on incompatible schedules. Gotta fix that...
     
  6. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I laughed when I saw the first questions in the OP. Yeah, @KaTrian's and my current WIP has subplots. Probably too many.

    Then again, we're not entirely sure how to determine what is a subplot and what's just another branch of the mainplot and what's an isolated minor event that just sorta kinda veers close to the main plot.

    If we count all of those as subplots, then the number of subs in our WIP is just scary. We do try to weed out as many as we can (at least the less-than-absolutely-essential ones), but when we have a large cast and a long story, they seem to sort of naturally pop up like mushrooms during rain.
     
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  7. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the OP means a short story when discussing work, often they do not have subplots. With the word count restriction, there often isn't the opportunity, at least not for significant ones.

    If the OP is discussing a novel, of course they contain subplots. I'd recommend picking up a favorite novel or two and observing how the subplots are interwoven with the main storyline.

    I don't see the 'risk putting them in' as if there aren't subplots, it's going to be a very direct, if not short work, if a novel is intended. And probably stimulating and not satisfying to a reader. I say probably as almost anything is possible if done creatively and well written.
     
  8. Acanthophis
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    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

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    In my opinion, subplots are vital to a novel. Having characters go from point A to point B is boring; I prefer to have them tackle smaller objectives along the way, it really helps flesh characters out.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think it depends to a large extent on how closely the subplots are integrated with the main plot. If the integration is close, the subplots work well and serve a good purpose. If not, they waste time and words.

    In the classic 1960s movie version of The Flight of the Phoenix, for example, the main plot is about a group of survivors of a plane wreck in the desert trying to build a new plane out of the wreckage of the plane so they can get back to civilization. There's a subplot or two, but they're almost invisible. One involves the deteriorating relationship between a British military commander and his subordinate. Another involves the character of an oil-field worker (played by Ernest Borgnine) falling apart. These subplots, if that's what they really are, are very tightly tied into the main plot, and they work - they improve the story.

    In Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, on the other hand, the main plot involves young Ender being trained to be the commander of Earth's military forces against the interstellar invaders known as the Buggers (Formics in the movie version). There is also a huge subplot about Ender's older siblings, still children themselves, attempting to take over the world through forums on a proto-Internet. (The web didn't exist when Card wrote the book.) This subplot is not only preposterous, it has nearly nothing to do with the main plot, and feels like Card just added it to pad out the length. It does not work, and is one of the things that ruins that novel for me.

    So, for me, whether or not subplots are necessary or desirable depends on the strength of the main story and the weakness of the subplots. If they help, put them in. If they don't, leave them out. If they totally suck, leave them out and burn them. :)
     
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  10. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @minstrel brought up an important point: even an interesting subplot can be pointless if it has nothing to do with the main plot.

    One of the things I absolutely hate is to, say, come up with a new side character, flesh them out, write them in, and feel like I really nailed it only to realize their subplot has nothing (or too little) to do with the main plot, the actual story, and it's just icing on top of icing, and I have to cut it all out. If it has nothing to do with the main plot, chances are, it doesn't serve the story but actually hurts it.

    Sometimes it stings, especially if I've come up with a great character/scene and it ends up in the bin, but if it has to go, it has to go. Usually I do save the outtakes and if I love the character/scene, I use it somewhere else (usually in a highly modified form), but that doesn't make the decision to remove them from the original story any less annoying.

    I'm just grateful for the existence of beta readers and forums like this. Without outside input, it's sometimes difficult to know when you have one (or several) subplots too many.
     
  11. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I find subplots that come naturally from my main plot.
     
  12. Mystovation
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    Mystovation New Member

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    One of my main struggles with subplots is to be able to keep track of them and make them as interesting as the main plot. If the main plot has many deep elements to it, which would require a lot of thinking subplots might hinder the actual story; being able to incorporate a subplot that not only flows with the main plot, but also helps push the main plot is something that I am a little scared to do honestly
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    when you start getting tangled up in your subplots, it's time to stop and do up a skeleton outline, to keep everything straight...
     
  14. Mystovation
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    Mystovation New Member

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    Is it really worth it? To even incorporate subplots I mean.
     
  15. Vandor76
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    Vandor76 Contributing Member

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    In the real world people usually have several goals and do different things to achieve all of them. We have family, loves, hobbies, travel plans, friends to meet with and a job and each of these have different points to be interested in. A person who concentrates to only one of these and does nothing else is boring for most people. Same applies to novels.

    The protagonist faces several obstackles on his way to the finish line and these can be the results of subplot elements.

    A story about a hero fighting against the villain, failing first but standing up and after several turns defeating him is nice but needs some spices to be added. A subplot which shows that the hero is a human being just like anyone else and he has a life outside of the main events of the story. For example the hero is attracted to that blue-eyed blonde and asks her out. The subplot can link to the main plot several ways like the girl is the daughter of the villain or is the secret lover of his best friend and this makes a conflict between them and the hero loses him as an ally and as a result loses the next turn of the fight as well.
     
  16. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As some have already said, it depends on what you write (poetry, short stories, novels etc). I mean, have you seen even one full-length novel without a single subplot?
     
  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Worth it to whom?
     
  18. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    In a novel, I believe so. A subplot, if done right can enchance the main plot and/or characters. It can show that events have wider consequences. For example, a book's main plot centers around a large tornado that knocks down the main character's house. A subplot about a supporting character dealing with his own tornado aftermath would show just how devistating the storm was.
     
  19. Ritrezer
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    Ritrezer Member

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    I already have subplots, but I'm not entirely sure how I can show them, as my work is 3rd person limited, following everything from one character's POV- my MC's. So, I can't just switch from another character to another.
     
  20. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, you can. You just have to make sure that, in each scene, it is clear to the reader which POV is being presented at any one time. Tom Clancy did this all throughout his Jack Ryan novels.

    You can also have subplots involving the same character. After all, I'm sure that in your own life there are multiple "stories" occurring in any given time period.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you want to write novels, it's necessary...
     
  22. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Subplots are fun too. You can (up until the climax) take a break from the main plot and play around with another. But then it comes together as a big puzzle and it's interesting. And, if you're coming up short on the word count, it makes up a lot.
     
  23. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Interesting what you said about Ender's Game. In fact I think that subplot wasn't there in Card's original version, which was a longish short story. (Practically impossible to find this version now.) I remember reading it in a collection of sci-fi stories way back when, and thinking how fantastic it was. I picked up the 'novel' version later, and was so disappointed. It was, as you say, all padded out with nonsense. Shame that's the version everybody now sees. The original was a cracking story, and I did NOT see the twist coming at all.
     
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  24. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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  25. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree 100% with all of this! I remember reading the original novelette in Analog magazine when it first came out, and I liked it then (I was about fourteen at the time; I liked almost everything I read). I don't remember that dumb subplot being in the original. I had exactly the same experience you did: when I read the novel, I found that padding stupid, silly, and unnecessary.
     

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