Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Subplottin'

Like my skull pic? Whenever I start a new project, I get a three-ring notebook for the eventual hardcopy, and I start shopping for the image that fits the story and slide it under the plastic on the notebook. The image serves as inspiration--my "book cover." This one's for The Simulacrum, a collaborative effort which we hope to finish by the end of summer. The Simulacrum is a thriller wrapped in the world of paleontology and will appeal to those who like stories that crank the adrenaline, but at the same time keep the ol' brain matter firing on all cylinders. The first draft is complete, and my job is to beef it up some. And I'm talking some heavy-duty beef. The novel, complete as is, contains only 54K words out of a necessary 80K+ for this genre.

What to do, what to do?

Subplot. A sure-fire way to increase word count while bringing depth to a story.

In her soon-to-be-released "how-to," Structuring Your Novel, author/mentor K.M. Weiland explains subplots like this:
In a nutshell, a subplot is a thematically related exploration of a minor part of the protagonist’s personality. It’s a “miniature” plot that features a sideline story. As such, subplots are vital for providing both contrast within the plot (they allow us to give readers a “break” from the main plot) and for allowing us to introduce character depth via situations that would be off-limits in the main part of the plot.
This would be the place where your character's intriguing backstory can be woven into your tale. Remember that biological sketch you did of your MC (if you did one)? Not all of it is necessary for the reader to know, just for you to know as you flesh out your character and bring him to life. However, every now and then, there's something--and only you know what it is--that would make a great subplot. It would weave into the story easily and present a different side to your character that the others who populate the story may or may not be aware of.

If you're a plotter/planner, you may already have your subplot in mind. But what if you've done as we have: written your entire story only to discover you've fallen horribly short of your word-count goal? That's when you reread your story with an eye toward a subplot idea and organic places to weave it in. By now, you know all your characters' personalities, and you know what happens at any given point in your plot line. As you reread, you'll be able to see what needs to be done. ("Top 10 Tips to Create Subplots for Your Story," by Samatha Stone, has some terrific ideas for brainstorming subplots if you can't find one easily through your reread.)

For us, the main character is a middle-aged, Harley-ridin' PI named Gunnar, who's stuck in the era ruled by boomboxes and The Eagles. He's snarky and condescending and, occasionally, an out and out jerk. The most we learn about his personal life is that he's a widower. Still, he's the best at what he does, and our damsel in distress needs the best. We watch him at his job, watch the two of them bicker, watch how they deal with both danger and discussions of contradictory science. Had our book been long enough, this would've been perfect. But it isn't long enough.

In comes the subplot, derived from the simple mention that Gunnar's wife had died before the story proper began. The reader finds that tidbit of information just short of a quarter of the way through the book, which turned out to be perfect. By this point, the primary characters are introduced, the story problem is presented, the search for answers is just beginning. Only then, when the main plot is underway, is it safe to bring in the subplot.

Soon after Mary, the female lead, discovers that Gunnar is a widower, I'll introduce a phone conversation between Gunnar and his secretary, informing him that his father-in-law has sued him for the wrongful death of his daughter. How Gunnar handles this--the internal battle he wages, his response to his father-in-law, his ability to buck up under the added pressure--adds depth to his character and gives the reader another view of this otherwise abrasive man. And it gives me lots of extra words to present in the subplot.

All through the book, I found down-times where the dialogue could easily be changed to something pertinent to the subplot, or the activity can be switched over to feed the subplot without harming the main story line and with only a few adjustments to the major text to be sure everything is cohesive. Yes, it's a lot of work to develop a story to go in the story, then fit it in to what already exists, but it can be done.

A couple of key points:

  • The main plot should be established before the subplot is introduced.
  • The subplot must never override the main plot.


For more quick-read points, check out "Subplots," by Billie A. Williams. Terrific advice on the dos and don'ts of subplotting.

Happy writing!~~~or rewriting! :D

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

6 comments:

  1. Great thoughts, Linda! (And thanks for the shout out!) Subplots are always one of my favorite areas to explore in a story. Never know what juicy tidbits you're going to discover.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can usually find something fun to work with. I'm glad I could, or we'd be in a mess! :D

      Delete
  2. Should the sublot contribute to the main plot other than for character fleshing? I mean, will the daughter's dead somehow be related to the main plot?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Without giving anything away, the way the daughter died will be part of the story later, so yes, the subplot does--and should--contribute to the main plot.

      Delete
  3. Linda:
    Write on! Thank God for cut and paste, insert, find and replace. It makes rewriting so much easier.
    KP

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yeppers. No way would I accomplish as much on my old IBM Selectric III!

    ReplyDelete