1. Ethan Gargantiel

    Ethan Gargantiel New Member

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    What makes a good romantic subplot?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ethan Gargantiel, Dec 14, 2017.

    I'm currently writing a novel and I want to learn how to make a neato romantic subplot. I was kinda inspired to do this while reading through 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and decided it was a good (or bad, depending on how you see romantic sub-plots) to add a bit more of a development between the reader and the main character(s). That being said, what makes a good romantic subplot?
     
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  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Digging out my Balzac Contributor

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    Oh, I'd say in the broad sense it's a bit like the Jerry McQuire "you complete me" thing. Like characters have wants, needs, obstacles, and deficits that another character can sort through, rearrange, and reboot so everyone ends up better for being together. And sex doesn't hurt either. There's a whole slew of readers that will tune in or stick around just for the sex, regardless of the narrative framework around it.
     
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  3. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    What kind of a novel are you writing ...or, more specifically, what (in brief) is your main plot going to be? Is it a thriller, or a crime novel, or what?

    I assume from what you're saying that your romance isn't necessary to the resolution of your plot?

    It sounds as if you have some idea of what you're looking at. What are your two characters like ...the ones you want to become romantically involved? How do they fit in to the main plot?
     
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  4. CoyoteKing

    CoyoteKing Good Boi Contributor

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    That’s a really broad question.

    So:
    • Try to think about books and series you like.
    • What’s a romantic subplot you liked? Hermione and Ron? Bones and Booth? Jaime and Cersei? Drizzt and Catti-Brie? Kirk and Spock?
    • What did you like about them, and how did they work?
    In general, usually every romance has the same basic building blocks.
    • Something pulls them together. There is some sort of similarity, or attraction, or interest. Admiration. Why do they like each other?
    • Something keeps them apart. This conflict can be internal or external.
    • For example: Drizzt is an elf and Catti-Brie is human. He’s afraid of falling in love with her because she will die long before him. So the conflict is internal. Internal doubts and fears, internal bias, internal ideals. Eventually he overcomes this.
    • External— someone else or something else keeps the two of them apart. Romeo and Juliet, for example, are kept apart by their family.

    Hope this helps.
     
  5. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    This sums it up really well. For a romantic sub plot then you want 'will they, won't they' rather than just romance. You don't really want them to be on dates etc, you want the flow of the main plot be what puts them together and ideally what makes them not quite get together immediately. That also gives you a strand to play with in your main plot; the romance can be used against them or get characters to act differently than they would which lets you play things on two different axis. The ideal would be the conjunction of the main plot and the romance puts one of them in the position where they have to choose between the main plot and the romance. That's a good source of dramatic tension.
     
  6. MilatheRose

    MilatheRose New Member

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    Geometry. Triangles are good, but the more polygonal the better. If you don't service the fans how are they ever going to service you.

    And I realize now how that sounds but I'm leaving it in there.

    Honest answer though? It really shouldn't be added in unless its relevant to the plot. They so often become a time sink that pull us way from the parts of the story we really care about. Coyote mentioned Harry Potter. Who was really invested in that Cho whats her face sub plot after the promise of dragon battles and possible assassination? It never really goes anywhere and doesn't contribute to the main story thread. Mostly just pads out the book length.
     
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  7. Ethan Gargantiel

    Ethan Gargantiel New Member

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    The plot of the story is about these "things" that suddenly rampaged through a world that is parallel to ours, albeit I try not to mention terms in real life as much as possible. Now what I'm thinking is having one main character in one area and the other character is far away from the main character, but both of them have "knowledge of each other" if you get what I'm saying. Kinda like yearning for someone. That or both of them are close, but the interest develops as the story passes by. One character faces the catastrophe as a high-ranking member of society that is militarily trained, while the other character is just an average Joe who just wants to survive.

    And I'm actually debating with myself whether or not I should add a romantic subplot since I think it might make the reader be hooked on the character.
     
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  8. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Are you wanting the reader to be hooked on the character? Or would you prefer that they become more hooked on the main plot? If you're worried that a romantic subplot could skew your story in a direction you don't want it to go, then don't create one. Don't just tack it on there, because that will show. Either that, or, if the subplot is good enough, it could actually derail your story to some extent.

    I don't know if you've read His Dark Materials (Phillip Pullman) or not, but over the course of the three-volume series he creates a very romantic subplot that sounds similar to yours. Two people from separate parallel universes form a relationship over a period of time. I think Pullman does this very well, but it certainly doesn't dominate the rest of the goings-on. (Although, to be fair, the ending of that subplot was so emotionally moving that is IS the main thing I took away from the series! So there you go....)
     
  9. Ethan Gargantiel

    Ethan Gargantiel New Member

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    Ah, I see your point. Thank you very much for that answer :D

    Also, I'll see if I can find time to read the book you've mentioned. It sounds very interesting and I might draw some inspirations from his trilogy.
     
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  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Um... No. I have to strongly disagree with this. Subplots are important to all stories, I believe. Think about life. You are not just dealing with the main plot of your life. You are juggling a bunch of subplots while living the main story of your life. If you want your story and characters to ring true for readers, you've got to put in subplots. And what novel doesn't have a subplot? I honestly can't think of one.
     
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  11. MilatheRose

    MilatheRose New Member

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    I did not say subplots where bad. the various rounds of the tournament and how to defeat them where also subplots. The main plot really only required the sorting, the trial, the ball, and the resurrection. Its just some of the subplots, like learning about dragons, the underwater places around Hogwarts, and learning about the other schools in Europe where better subplots.

    Not all plots are created equal. Another example, the deliberations of Galadria in LOTR was a less interesting subplot then the sub plot about the line of Stewarts and how one son was more loved than the other. Mostly because we know how hers has to end before it even starts. If she takes the ring then books over, where as Faramir might have proved himself or might not have. Even between these two very well written subplots they are not created equal. My point was that not all subplots are created equal so its best not to spend time on a romantic subplot unless you don't have a better candidate available at this time.
     
  12. CoyoteKing

    CoyoteKing Good Boi Contributor

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    I'm actually kind of confused by your point, too.

    Romantic subplots can be well-written or badly written, just like any other subplot.
     
  13. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Sorry, but you're kind of losing me here.
     
  14. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    First off, the deliberations of Galadria is not a subplot, it is a point of conflict in the main plot. Anything that occurs outside of Frodo and Sam are the subplots in LoRT.

    Aragon trying to regain the throne and save Gondor; subplot.
    Pippen and Merry attacking Isengard; another subplot.

    Frodo trying to destroy the ring and lots of bullshit happening to him; main plot.
     
  15. izzybot

    izzybot Deadly Jerry Contributor

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    It sounds like you just don't enjoy romantic subplots, which is fine, but that doesn't mean that they're in any way lesser than any other type of subplot. I don't tend to enjoy them either (the example @jannert mentions up above from His Dark Materials bored me to tears and that's just about all I remember about it, for instance), but it's important to be able to recognize when something is well done and just doesn't appeal to you personally vs when it's actually poorly done.
     
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  16. MilatheRose

    MilatheRose New Member

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    Ok, lots of words. Starting from the top.

    The central question was "What makes a good romantic subplot?" My answer was that not straying too far from the main plot. The HP one was an example of where it literally had no effect on the main plot.

    I was just explaining that all subplots do not necessarily add equally to a story, which was in support of my original statement which I have summarized in a response to Coyote's question. Ridiculously short version of what we said as I understand it.

    Me: A good romantic sub-plot hugs the main story thread.

    You: I think subplots are important to all stories

    Me: Yeah, but some are better than others and the OP question is what makes them good.

    Galadria's desire to know if the ring can possess her is not really cogent to the central conflict of getting the ring to Mt.Doom (^^ Subtle) and tossing it in. If she had not had this curiosity like Elrond did not then the events of the story would not be altered by this. The event only exists to make her more interesting as a character. The only thing that happens there that is information about Frodo is that he admits he would pawn off the ring on her if he could. But if you are not slow you already have this information. I mean, this is the 3rd time he has tried to shrug this duty.

    I didn't say I did not enjoy them. There are actually some I quite like. The one in the original Dragon Riders of Pern was really interesting. It was the first time I considered the bothersome nature of relationships when people have involuntary psychic links to various people. That information does become pretty relevant later though, so I don't see it as too extraneous. Its a sub plot, but it also world builds and fully explains the range of the psychic abilities of dragon riders.
     
  17. izzybot

    izzybot Deadly Jerry Contributor

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    Of course you didn't say you didn't enjoy them, you said, "Not all subplots are created equal so its best not to spend time on a romantic subplot unless you don't have a better candidate available at this time."

    This sounds like, "Not all types of subplots have the same inherent value, so don't waste time on a romantic one unless you have no better options" to me, implication being that romantic subplots are ones with inherently low value, so you'd be better off pursuing a different type of subplot.

    If that isn't what you meant, could you clarify?
     
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  18. MilatheRose

    MilatheRose New Member

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    Yeah, no problem. Basically there is rarely a reason to have a romantic plot that exists for its own sake. I mean, if you want that then write a romance. Your genera should determine what elements get sacrificed for the sake of what other elements.

    It can often be used for ancillary purposes though. Like in the Pern story I was talking about. It actually exists for the sake of couching exposition and saves you from an exposition dump. That romantic subplot is not only NOT hurting the story. It made it better than it otherwise would have been. Because either they would have had to explain all of this strait up or they would have had to just move on with the plot. I think that is what we should aim for. Not just not hurting the plot, but actually improving the strength of the story telling.

    It happened the way it happened and I feel like it should not have happened any other way. I think that this is how sub-plots should feel. They should feel like part of the main story even if the main thread isn't leaning on them per say. I feel like that is the extra step a good sub plot takes, romantic or not.
     
  19. izzybot

    izzybot Deadly Jerry Contributor

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    See, I agree with all of this. I think you clearly understand what makes for a good subplot, or at least you have the same view of them that I do - that they need to tie into the main plot, prop it up, inform it. But I disagree with this:

    Again, it just sounds like you don't like romantic subplots. There's rarely if ever a reason to have any subplot that exists 'for its own sake', wouldn't you agree? That's just definitionally a bad subplot. If it exists for its own sake, then it's not helping along the main plot, maybe even be hurting it, and - yeah - it's bad. Why single out romantic subplots as rarely having a reason to exist? That's what's giving the impression that you don't care for them, here.
     
  20. MilatheRose

    MilatheRose New Member

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    Well, yeah. I'm sure some where out in the universe there is an exception, but yeah. I'd say that is basically true.

    Mainly cause that's the topic of the thread.

    Though I guess feel like romantic subplots are particularly bad offenders in modern fiction so I thought it deserved some mention.
     
  21. izzybot

    izzybot Deadly Jerry Contributor

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    When the topic of the thread is "how do I write a good romantic subplot" I don't think that "you shouldn't because they're inherently bad" is particularly helpful, but sure, okay.

    Honestly, I also think that a lot of the time romantic subplots are tacked on or added in for the supposed widespread appeal (I'm thinking of movies here moreso than books), and they're not well-developed subplots and do kind of suck, because we're expected to just accept that Conventionally Attractive Lead A and Conventionally Attractive Lead B should have sexual tension and kiss at the end of the movie - regardless of whether it was actually built up, mattered, or made sense. But I can separate "this is poorly executed" from "this doesn't appeal to me, personally" and I don't think that that's what you're doing when you say things like "there is rarely a reason for a romantic plot to exist" and "don't spend time on a romantic subplot if you have other candidates".
     
  22. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I've seriously considered two romantic subplots in the HFN. If I implement one of them, it will be very much about trust, which is a main plot thread, and won't be a waste of space.
     
  23. MilatheRose

    MilatheRose New Member

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    What? When did I say anything even remotely similar to that. I gave a good example (the one in Pern) and a bad example (the HP one). That's not even almost what I suggested. I'm literally laying the foundation for one now.
     
  24. dragonmint

    dragonmint Member

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    A good romantic subplot, in my opinion, is that it correlates with the main plot - with strict regards to what genre one's plot falls into. I can't say I'm an expert in the whole "complexities of writing", but subplots, from my view, are just tools to better showcase the main plot and delve deeper into the main character(s). A romantic subplot, in that case, would show the different facets of the main character(s) and add an emotional layer to the main plot. I should mention I don't like romance that much, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.
     
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  25. izzybot

    izzybot Deadly Jerry Contributor

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    The op asked, "What makes a good romantic subplot?" You, repeatedly, said,
    This is all pretty clearly discouraging adding a romantic subplot at all. Any subplot can become a time sink if done poorly, but you're implying that romantic ones are prone to being tedious ... for some reason? I already explained what the "not all subplots are created equal" bit sounds like in post #17. And the third quote seems to imply that if you want to write a romantic subplot you should just write a romantic main plot, because being able to justify a romantic subplot is a rarity.

    No, you're not explicitly saying that you think romance subplots are bad, but you certainly don't seem to have a high opinion of them. I'm not sure how it's helpful to the topic of writing something well to suggest that they generally shouldn't be bothered with in the first place.

    That said, I can't be bothered to confusedly quote your own posts at you anymore, so you do you.
     
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