For today’s writing-related Challenge of the Week, as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page, let’s just get down to it. Here’s how it goes:
Decide what subplots your plot can support and then which ones it should.
Most story lines do, in fact, involve a subplot of some kind. There are even a number of creative works that operate with multiple ones. Though, admittedly, some of them do it well and some of them do it horribly.
That’s why you want to give your plot a good, hard look to see what dramatic detours will enhance it and which ones might actually end up detracting from it. Ask yourself whether any extras are relevant, whether they’re necessary and whether they’re intriguing.
Chances are actually quite high that your plot can support a myriad of subplots. Romantic angles, stories of redemption, additional mysteries, bunny trails of revenge… They’re probably all there for the taking should you so choose.
Take the young adult fantasy series I’m reading right now by Sarah J. Maas. It has a ton of subplots to it and always seems to be adding another one. Yet the story naturally lends to them and, moreover, Maas makes them work.
(Editor's Note: I would no longer recommend this series, as it gets extremely sloppy, not to mention exceptionally inappropriate for a young adult audience.)
In the first book, Throne of Glass, there’s one main character and two almost-main characters who get to tell their perspectives around the protagonist’s. Those two gents are integral parts of the story, but the main main character is still clearly Celaena Sardothien, a teenaged assassin who readers instantly find confined to a miserable prison mining colony.
Now, it’s been two whole months since I read Throne of Glass, and I’m currently pouring through the second book in the series, Crown of Midnight. So forgive me if I botch up itty-bitty details here. I can’t quite remember if Celaena’s already being escorted somewhere by a stony-faced captain when the story opens or if that doesn’t happen until page 2.
Big deal, right?
Regardless, she soon finds out that the very king who sentenced her to slavery is holding a tournament: a competition to select his own personal assassin to keep him on top of a politically distressed world. And she’s been chosen to participate.
So, naturally, the plot follows her training to sweep the competition. It’s filled with morning runs and mental challenges and sword fights to test her skills until the big showdown at the young adult fantasy version of the O.K. Corral.
And then, on top of that already compelling story line, there are a lot of subplots. Like a lot a lot.
For one thing, Celaena’s not pushing herself to the limits because her dream in life has always been to serve the man who killed her family and tried his best to destroy her. If she wins, she’ll get a contract to serve him – at the end of which, she’ll get her freedom. So the quest to be her own woman is definitely a thread that takes its own stage throughout the novel.
Then there are a series of mysterious deaths that start occurring around the castle when she and the other assassins arrive: gruesome maulings that have her trying to solve them in her spare time to make sure she’s not the next victim.
The thing is that Celaena doesn’t have much spare time, not with the tricky new friendship with a visiting princess that she needs to handle. She really likes the girl, but can she trust her?
And speaking of friendships, there’s also a love triangle that ever pushes the question of whether this engaging main character will end up with the glowering captain of the guards or the flirtatious prince – the oldest son of her greatest enemy.
Oh yeah, and there’s a subplot with him too. Because it wasn’t the king himself who called for Celaena to join in the fun. It was his son, who’s kinda ticked off with Daddy and looking to establish his independence.
Will he be able to? Or will he end up a carbon copy of his evil sire?
I’m trying really hard not to give too much away here in case you want to read The Glass Throne, but hopefully the details above are enough to give you a model of what a strong subplot looks like while you’re choosing your own.
Remember, above all, whatever additional story lines you choose to run with, they should be relevant, necessary and intriguing. Once you master that combination, your readers won’t be able to put your book down.