1. MikeyC

    MikeyC Active Member

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    Pointless side plots

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by MikeyC, Jul 2, 2018.

    The two books i have written, I made a point of doing my damnedness (i just made up a word lol) of desperately trying to make almost every paragraph have a point to the story.

    Then i watched a film this weekend and it got me thinking . . .

    The horror film was about prom night, and the main guy got kidnapped by a girl he said no, after she asked to go to the prom with him. (its on netflix). There was a complete side plot about his friend going to the prom with a goth girl. This whole side plot had absolutely no baring on the story at all. Were they just filling in? There was one tenuous link, the relationship with her dad and the fact he was a policeman (or whatever they are called in America, State Trooper or something).

    So it got me thinking, I have read a LOT of Stephen King, and he goes into a lot of background, but he does it well, in my opinion, and towards the end of each background chapter there is a reason for it, but it just takes a while to get there. I think Stephen King falls in love with his characters and wants the reader to know them like he does . . . maybe.

    But it feels like very dodgy area, and done badly could ruin a book......

    Thoughts?



    Rgds
     
  2. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Side plots should always be relevant to the main story. If they're not, then they are just filling in and distracting from what is really important. Side plots can run alongside the main plot in parallel, or they can weave in and out of the main plot, or they can even occur at the beginning and end to bookend the main plot. A really good example of the latter was Star Trek (the later series like TNG and Voyager), in which many episodes would start and end with something personal to the characters, and the main plot then often acted as a metaphor for whatever personal struggle they were experiencing.
     
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  3. WaffleWhale

    WaffleWhale Active Member

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    Nope. We still call them policemen here.
    And I think those side-plots just sound like ways to try to develop character.

    It could also be a Chekhov's gun thing, where they can crash the two plots together to solve a problem if they need to.
     
  4. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    You guys make good points about subplots. Yes, they can certainly add interest and develop character. They also make it clear that the story is more than just a main plot—just like real life has more going on than what's in front of your face.

    It's also a mistake to assume, while reading, that a subplot has nothing to do with the main plot. You won't know if that's the case till you reach 'the end.' As @WaffleWhale pointed out, the two plots may come together to help solve the main story problem.

    Also, subplots need to have their own conclusions. If the main plot is about solving a murder, and the subplot is about the detective's son being seriously ill, then not only does the murder need solving (or resolution) but the issue about the boy's health also needs resolution. He can get better, or die, or will likely be handicapped for life, or whatever. But that issue needs to be brought to some kind of conclusion as well, for the reader to go away satisfied.

    The only kind of subplot I would tend to avoid is one which is actually an unconnected storyline—the people involved in the subplot aren't connected to the main characters or events in any important way.

    For example. The detective is trying to solve a murder while dealing with his son's serious illness. A woman who lives down the street from the detective has a married daughter who is pregnant, but the girl is getting divorced, and will be in financial difficulty with a new baby as a result. Unless this mother/daughter subplot impacts on the solution of the murder mystery or on the detective's state of mind or on his son's health, it's probably best left out. The pregnancy/divorce situation might make a good story in its own right, but it doesn't help with this one. It's just a distraction. And readers will EXPECT it to have an impact on the main story. If it turns out that it actually doesn't ...the readers will be annoyed.
     
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  5. Shnette

    Shnette Active Member

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    Yes, pointless side plots could be dangerous so you have to be really ingenious when writing them.
    For someone like me with little patience, if an author fails to keep my attention, I will skip around a book looking for the "good parts."
     
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  6. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman Extradinor Contributor

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    :superthink:, I need to think on this.

    I want to defend pointless sub-plots as a fun detour, I do not necessary agree with the notion that it must tie in with the main story. There are plenty of shows on TV what have subs that have nothing to do with main story of said episode. I enjoy learning more about the characters and their world, see the be human (as it were) .


    I completely disagree,

    I do fully agree with this, it has to be one of those things that must keep the readers interest, though not every reader will like it even if it is written well while others may love it as an insight into the lives of the characters in the book. But as you said,
     
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  7. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    Irrelevant sideplots can be annoying but they do happen. If you look at them closely, you might discover that they are not completely irrelevant. They can be there for different reasons, such as establishing the characters, or the atmosphere, or showing how the normal lives of some characters in a horror movie are disrupted by a murderer hiding in the attic. As a reader, or viewer, you may be a bit too impatient, so you would rather hear how the main story goes rather than seeing all those sideplots develop, but that doesn't make them less relevant. That's how the author chose to tell this particular story.
     
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  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    If by this you mean the main plotline, I disagree. My definition of the main 'story' is so broad that a side plot utterly irrelevant to the story wold be pretty unlikely.
     
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  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I haven't seen this film, so I can't draw any conclusions, but from what you're talking about here I'd suggest it bears further thinking about before declaring the side plot irrelevant. I say that it bears further consideration just because how closely it is tied, conceptually, to what is going on in the main story line. If the main story involves a kidnapping after a refusal to go to the prom, then a side plot about two people who are going to the prom together could serve any of a number of important story functions. Not saying it does, since I haven't seen it, but from what you've said it's something I'd look at.
     
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  10. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman Extradinor Contributor

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    Sounds like my kind of writing, where the Main story is pretty much just Life itself.
     
  11. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    Lots of times side plots are about characterization. This is especially necessary in horror because if you don't feel something for the character, you don't particularly care about what happens to them. They become pawns for the plot rather than people. Stephen King is especially masterful at this, and he's very aware of it. Could The Stand have been 500 pages shorter? Yeah, probably, but it wouldn't have been as impactful. However, some of his stories do have side tangents that seem completely useless, but I'd attribute that as much to his alcohol and cocaine use than anything, he didn't seem to have the same trouble after he got sober. The Tommyknockers could easily have been a 300 page book rather than 800.

    King's take on horror is much less about the events that actually happen, but how the characters respond to them. It's the interpersonal drama that make his works so great. Pennywise the Clown may have been the main protagonist in IT, but Henry Bowers is where the real terror comes from. King's descriptions from Pennywise' point of view almost lessen the impact of the clown because it shows it as a godly being who's not really interested in terrorizing anyone other than for taste, it just need to feed like anything else, where Bowers... well he's just plain psychotic.
     
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  12. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I would argue that a sub-plot which exists for the purpose of characterisation is still relevant to the main plot. The characters need to develop in order to achieve their goals, and if the side plot reveals those character developments then it is relevant. A side plot which explores the character in ways which have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the main plot would be quite pointless in my opinion, and I would find it quite annoying to read.
     
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  13. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think subplots can add a lot to a story and we don't always have to determine or evaluate how relevant to the main plot they are. Are they part of the story? Because that matters more than strictly sticking to the main plot. Good stories need layers and texture. We shouldn't be afraid to add such things or worry too much how needed they are. The author made these subplots part of the story. And just as a story has something to say, subplots can be part of the conversation too. Not every connection has to be so obvious. Subtleness can be a very powerful thing in writing.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2018
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  14. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I try to have subplots kick back to the mc. It's like To Kill a Mockingbird you had Scout and the kids and Boo, and then you had the court trial but they're interconnected and they build to cross paths ... Rather powerfully.
     
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  15. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I agree with the others that there should be a pretty broad definition of "related" used when saying subplots should be related to the main plot... possibly "complimentary" would be a clearer word?

    I'd also add that I'd recommend extreme caution when trying to take lessons from films to use while writing novels. They're two completely different mediums and the strengths of one are often the weaknesses of the other. You can get away with things in film that you can't get away with in novels, and vice versa.
     
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  16. Kingwood Kid

    Kingwood Kid Member

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    Everyone's always so worried about the plot. If the plot was all that mattered, nobody would buy the book; they'd just read the back cover and be done with it. Sometimes side plots are about characters. Sometimes they are other ways to explore the ideas the author is interested in. Sometimes it's just comic relief or some other tone change. There are many works that don't really have one central plot, just numerous stories that are woven together, sometimes more loosely than others.
     
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  17. Writersaurus

    Writersaurus Member

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    Shows like 'The Walking Dead' are actually filled with babble that has nothing to do with what's going on. There are even scenes between characters that you could just pull straight out of the episodes, and it would still make sense.

    But I guess that as long as it's not boring, a side plot or dialogue doesn't really matter?
     
  18. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Hmmm... :dead:
     
  19. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

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    Plot and storyline sound better ways to develop chracter. Sidetracks don't sound good.
     
  20. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Contributor Contributor

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    In my experience, even when it comes to reading my favorite books or watching my favorite TV shows or movies, sub-plots don't always have to be related to the main plot directly, but they absolutely need to show character development, world building, and anything else that very well could impact the main character(s) or story in some way, shape, or form. The example of later episodes of Star Trek Voyager was a good example (I love that show, so I know what the poster was talking about). Every member of that crew had their own personal issues to deal with, and those issues very well could impact the success or failure of the Voyager's mission to get back home. And those sub-plots tied in to the overarching themes the show developed from the get go, so none of it was pointless (even though there are many episodes that I DO dislike because they are either weird or feel pointless to me, personally. But that's an example of how the relevance of sub-plots in any story...can really be subjective!).

    Anyway, in my current story I have many sub-plots. Most of them are just one of many strands that are weaving through the main plot, a piece to the puzzle, but they each have their own focus and conclusion. Bringing one of those sub-plots to an end doesn't necessarily end the other sub-plots. Then I have two romances (one happens first, then another is later after the first crashes and burns). They have nothing to do with the main plot directly, but they do help develop the characters involved in the relationships, and create tension and drama that does have ripple effects into the main story. Those sub-plots are still important in their own way. They are serving a purpose and not just for the sake of having romance squeezed into the story.
     
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  21. Edward M. Grant

    Edward M. Grant Contributor Contributor

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    One writer with a lot of books out there said his pointless side plots were mostly due to needing to meet book length demands from publishers. If he submitted a book and they wanted it to be 10,000 words longer, he'd find a convenient spot in the story, write a 10,000 word side plot that brought them back to exactly where they started, and send in the new draft. No need to revise anything else, because nothing important changed in those 10,000 words.
     
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  22. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I really don't think readers are meant to skip around a novel. I'm sure you're missing a lot with that reading approach.
     
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  23. Edward M. Grant

    Edward M. Grant Contributor Contributor

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    If a book isn't keeping the reader's attention, either it's the wrong kind of reader for the book, or the writer has already failed.
     
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  24. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I heard someone talking about books with multiple POVs, and how she skips ahead to stay with certain POV characters because she doesn’t like when the author leaves a given character. Then goes back after to read the other POVs. That’s also bizarre.
     
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  25. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I use side plots as a way to develop my characters.
    So they are not pointless, nor do they have to be
    directly related to the main plot of the story.

    You can have side plots that are quite intangible
    or boring (I. E. The middle of Angelmass by Timothy
    Zahn), but they are still rooted to the story in some
    fashion. Though I have read some that just pull shit
    out of their ass just to add something else to the story
    which feels more like filler than actual sub plot(s).

    Backstory is not a sub plot in my lexicon. It is just
    a simple means of trying to exposition some history
    of a character to make them feel more rich and interesting
    while not typically having too much (if at all) bearing on
    the story it self. I think having a scattering of little bits
    of character history through out works far better than
    just starting with it from the beginning, as it feels less
    forced and contrived.

    Overall though a subplot does not have to be apart of
    the main story to be/not be interesting, it just depends
    on how it is written/portrayed in the story. Some work,
    and some just fall on their face. :)
     
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