fiction | Insights | writing | Writing Insights | writing tips and tools

Writing Insights: The intricacy of the sub plot

I wrote the other week about the importance of characters and my thoughts on how crucial they are to the story, and 75,000 words into my current work I am really happy with my characters.  They are well rounded and have found their voice. They are emotionally responsive, flawed and relateable; everything I wanted them to be. And I think I have succeed in them them taking me on their journey,showing me what they would do next rather than me telling them. So on the character front I think I am doing okay, maybe even well but one thing that is challenging me and creating negative dialogue in my head is the story line and subplot.

All books have a central story line and theme. Mine is a typical boy meets girl scenario. Something clicks but they don’t realise what until years later, then of course there are obstacles to overcome. This part of the story line is going well, I am happy with the direction and where things are heading but…. it is the subplot that is challenging me.

Sometimes you will read a book and the story line and plot will be beautifully written. The main story line with interweave effortlessly with subplots, creating interest and depth, sometimes wandering off on a tangent but the writer will smoothly draw them back in and the pieces will fit perfectly by the end of the book. It is like a timeless handwoven quilt, or complicated thousand piece jigsaw puzzle finally coming together.

Other times the central story line is enough to hold the readers interest. The strength of the characters and their ordeal will emotionally invest the reader enough for them to keep turning the page to find out how their story ends. The reader will not have much time for subpot and anything of the like will simply be a distraction.

Both styles of writing are strong in their own right.

So here I sit wondering, questioning, if my central story line and characters are enough to hold the readers attention. I do think the characters are strong enough but I am emotionally attached to them and their journey as they are alive in my head. I talk to them about why they are doing what they are doing. I question their motives and beliefs and I challenge their thinking. But I am the writer, not the reader. Is there enough depth? Are there enough layers?

My minor subplots that are integrated into the central story create individual challenges for the main characters and determine their choices showing the reader who they are along the way. But … Are they enough?…. Again depth and layers, layers and depth.

This is where reading whilst writing can be a dangerous thing.

Recently I read a wonderful novel where the subplot was totally out of alignment with the central theme, but it worked. At first I was bored with the distraction just wanting to get back to the main story line, but the writing was so good that it finally enticed and intrigued me enough that the subplot ended up working. Does my story need that? Do readers want that?

So yes it would seem that dangerous dialogue of fear and doubt have taken up residence in my head. They have pulled up a chair and made themselves comfortable. Their constant dull murmurs at the back of my mind are becoming louder. And perhaps it is more about my fears as a writer rather than whether or not I need a strong subplot. Self doubt; the burden of every writer.

Perhaps I should focus on what I do know.

I do know is that it is essential for subplots to connect with the main story line. They need to serve a purpose rather than just be a filler or distraction. They are there to support the story and characters, and they cannot become bigger than the story itself.

Yes, the involved world of a writer’s mind wandering through a maze of questions and confusion hoping to somehow find the right words that lead to a beautiful story.

So indulge me for a minute. Tell me…


Do you love a story with different subplots?
Or do they tend to distract you?
Do you love simple, character driven stories or intriguing, involved plots?