6 Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story

What is a sub-plot? 

A sub-plot is a plot that supports your main plot. Like your
plot, it should have a character who pursues a story goal and encounters
setbacks and conflict because of these actions. It should also reach a
resolution of some kind. If your character succeeds in attaining the goal of
the main plot, it could be a good idea for a failure in the sub-plot. 

Tip: The main plot begins and ends the novel.
Sub-plots should begin and end within the main plot. 

Why should you have one? 

Sub-plots add layers and texture to your novel, because they:

  • Show different perspectives of the central conflict in the story
  • Test your main characters’ motivations and
    abilities to achieve their goals
  • Show different aspects of the protagonist’s

If your sub-plot does not do at least one of these, it will
feel like a stand-alone story within your novel. This will irritate most
readers. A good way to see if your sub-plot adds to your book is to see if your
main story changes if you remove it. If it does not, you do not need it. Save it for another book. 

Six Sub-plots 

  1. Love. The love
    interest is the most common sub-plot. Remember that it does not have to be
    a romantic love interest. It should be a person or an animal that your
    protagonist loves. It could be a friend, a pet, or a family member.
    Writers use love interests to support protagonists and to thwart them by
    threatening their well-being.

  2. Growth. You can use
    a character’s emotional, spiritual or intellectual learning curves in this
    type of sub-plot. Protagonists do not always get what they want, but in a
    good story, they get what they need. This sub-plot shows a character’s
    story arc. A wizard who learns that real love is not part of a magic
    trick or a detective whose definition of faith changes when he or she
    investigates a crime committed by a religious leader, is interesting.
  3. Habits, Addictions,
    These can complicate matters for your main characters and make
    them more realistic. A ruthless politician with an interesting addiction, a
    corporate lawyer with an OCD, or an unfaithful wife who volunteers at a
    homeless shelter, becomes intriguing.

  4. Fear. If you make
    your characters vulnerable in some way, you can use this as a sub-plot. A
    soldier may be terrified of flying, but he or she has to deal with this to
    perform duties. An attractive forensic specialist may be unable to cope
    with intimate relationships because of the death of a spouse.
  5. Dreams. This
    sub-plot shows a hidden or delayed desire of the protagonist. He or she may
    want to study or visit a foreign city, or learn how to dance, paint or write. If
    the main plot is violent or action-packed, it is a good idea to make one
    of the sub-plots more reflective.

  6. Comedy. This
    sub-plot should only be used if you are naturally funny. There may be
    comic relief in a tense plot, but it usually comes from a character who is
    not the protagonist. If you are writing a novel with a serious theme and
    sombre mood, some light relief may be necessary. 

Tip: Too many sub-plots spoil the broth. Don’t overdo it. One or two sub-plots are usually enough.

Never let the sub-plot detract from the primary plot. It
should add colour and texture. If it does not, it is not the right one for your

© Amanda Patterson

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.
     by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Google+,  Tumblr  and Twitter. 
    If you enjoyed this post, you will love:
    1. The Romantic Sub-Plot – Six Uncommon Romantic Love Interests
    2. The Top 10 Tips for Plotting and Finishing a Book
    3. The Author’s Promise – two things every writer should do
    4. What is the difference between a commercial and a literary plot?
    5. 17 Ways To Make your Novel More Memorable
    6. Seven Extremely Good Reasons to Write the Ending First


    Writers Write offers the best  writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write – Write to communicate

    This article has 0 comments

    1. L.Z

      Thanks Amanda.

    2. lindsey Pogue

      I read a lot of posts and many of them seem to be repetitious in many ways. This was the first post I’ve read in a while that I actually wanted to click on every link, bookmark and hope I don’t forget about all that I learned later on. Thank you for this. Really. 🙂

    3. Amanda Patterson

      Thank you, Lindsey. I appreciate your comments and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

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