Not Second Place, But Side By Side
There is one element in plotting our story that we sometimes forget or neglect—the subplot.
The sub-plot is what rounds out a novel or screenplay, informing it with another shade of emotional colour to deliver a satisfying and entertaining experience.
It is the parallel narrative that allows the writer to explore theme, deepen characterisation, add tension or allow some relief. The sub-plot helps us understand the characters a bit better and gives a better sense of pace.
- Love and other pursuits. In a thriller, the love story is often the subplot. Why? It gives breathing space for the action and shows a human side to the hero. In a romance, the sub-plot is used to explore the hero or heroine’s work, family or social elements. Why? It stops the love story from becoming cloying or overwhelming.
- Against the grain. You can use the sub-plot to contradict the main plot, to show contrast or deliver irony. For example: a megalomaniac architect is building the city’s tallest building, but his relationship with his family is falling to the ground. The sub-plot shows how flaws affect the most powerful people.
- Echo an idea. You can create a sub-plot that resonates with the themes inherent in the main storyline or creates subtle text. For example: a policewoman is brutally attacked and must find the assailant. In the sub-plot, she helps out at her daughter’s school to build paper butterflies. The sub-plot highlights the fragility and resilience of beauty.
- Throw in an obstacle. You can use the sub-plot to complicate the life of your main character. For example: A top chef is preparing to open a new restaurant for a wealthy client. Instead of focusing on this success, he is lumped with a chatty and incompetent assistant. The sub-plot adds humour and shows the chef that he should lighten up in life.
- Close threads. Of course, you can have more than one sub-plot, but remember a sub-plot should never overwhelm the main story or confuse the audience or reader. Keep the two plot threads so tightly intertwined that they flow seamlessly and coherently.
A great sub-plot should help you sustain your plot and illuminate the central characters. It is there to support—and never steal away—from your core story.
Source for Image
- Setting – Are we there yet?
- Dire Consequences – How to get your characters into trouble
- The Inconsolable Writer – From Distraction to Inspiration in Four Easy Steps
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