Let me say right upfront that usually, I really enjoy this author’s work. She has created a memorable story world for her series, and a vivid, entertaining cast of characters. But this book really disappointed me.
There were several reasons, but the main gripe I had was a distracting sub-plot that kept interrupting the narrative drive to tell me stuff about two characters that I didn’t much like and didn’t care about. Worse, I had NO IDEA why they were in the book until right near the end.
By then, did I care? NO!!!! The content of the sub-plot could have been easily integrated into other parts of the narrative, without interfering with the flow of the story.
In this book, the author had two distinct sub-plots: the one mentioned above, and another that added depth to the main story and also developed characters we’d met in earlier books.
It felt relevant.
Some Thoughts About Sub-Plots
What exactly is a sub-plot? This is probably where writers agree to disagree. What is the difference, exactly, between a sub-plot and a twist or development of the main plot? The easiest way to decide is probably to ask yourself: “If I pulled the sub-plot out, could the story still stand alone?” If you answer ‘yes’, then you have a sub-plot. If you answer ‘no’, then you probably have a development of the main plot. To develop this further: if any action in the sub-plot changes the outcome of the story significantly, then it is actually part of the fabric of the main plot.
A sub-plot can have some impact on the main plot (for example by distracting the main character, or making him/her less effective) but generally doesn’t change the outcome.
BUT – to be honest, it doesn’t matter what you call it: as long as your sub-plot or story twist adds value to the plot and helps to keep the story moving, then it works.
What is the role of a sub-plot?
- To add depth to a primary character
- To add depth to the story
- To act as a relief from the ongoing tension of the main plot
- To keep the story moving when there is a lull in the action of the main plot
- To make things more difficult for the main character (i.e. to distract him/her from the job at hand)
DOs and DON’Ts of Sub-Plots
- let your sub-plot overpower the main plot
- let your sub-plot to spoil the pacing of your main story by interrupting the flow
- let your story drag on too long because the sub-plot needs space (if the book is too long, cut the sub-plot)
- use a sub-plot to help build suspense by making the reader wait to see what will happen (BUT make sure the sub-plot is interesting enough for the reader to want to know what happens there, too)
- use a sub-plot to put more problems in the way of other characters
- use a sub-plot to illuminate what motivates the characters
- Do you need a sub-plot? No. Short stories, novelettes and novellas don’t usually have them; they’re too short.
Should you have a sub-plot? Don’t insert one for the sake of having one. You might find that twists and turns of the main plot are enough.