3 Ways Subplots Function In Your Story

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If you’ve ever drafted, or attempted to draft a novel, you know how tricky it can be to weave together a cohesive plot that rises and falls in all the right places and doesn’t feel contrived. For a novel with natural flow, something that feels realistic and lifelike, you may need to introduce a subplot.

What is a subplot? Think of it as a sidestory. It may involve only one or two characters vs the entire cast involved in the plot. And your story will likely be richer for the effort you put into creating another plot line. Here are four ways that subplots function in your story.

Theme

TV shows and movies are great for subplots that provide another perspective on the theme addressed by the plot. Your main character may be struggling with her self-identity after quitting a sport she played through middle school. Her best friend is struggling with her own self-identity after finding out that she is adopted, a reality that her parents hid from her.

When plot and subplot revolve around the same theme, it can also be a way to keep the story from being moralistic. It can help readers question the assumptions that they make about the importance of identifying as part of one group of people or another.

Tension

A subplot can also help increase the tension in the story. One way to do this is to have your main character working away toward their goal in the main plot line. Simultaneously, another character, perhaps a sidekick or other trusted friend, is also competing for the same goal.

If this goal is something that only one of them can achieve – winning a scholarship, first place in a tournament or athletic meet, etc – then tension increases as the reader sees the two plot lines converging. The characters in the story may or may not know that they are competing but for the reader? The tension goes up moment by moment.

Slowing Things Down

Here is another use of the subplot I hadn’t considered until I read this Writer’s Digest post. As I was crafting my cozy, it felt like my character was moving too quickly toward’s solving the mystery. Each scene led her closer and closer to naming the murderer. She was getting there far too fast.

A subplot is one way to slow this down. If my character is working to solve the mystery while also solving a problem for her aging parent and looking for a new job, there is going to be a lot getting in the way of hunting down that murderer. New to town, she’s going to have to do some digging to solve the crime but the subplots can provide obstacles that get in her way.

A subplot isn’t something that you are going to include in a chapter book for young readers. But middle grade novels, young adult novels and anything for adults generally includes one or more subplots. Use them to make your story richer and more realistic, because how often do our days go smoothly without interruption?

–SueBE