Monday, March 15, 2010

Subplots and You

Quote: “In suspense novels even subplots about relationships have to have conflict.”
Jeffery Deaver

Song Playing: Wolf Like Me by TV on Radio

Last night was the first night in a few days I slept well, and man, can I feel the difference. I don’t function very well on lack of sleep, so I would rather endure many other physical discomforts than being sleepy. And I am not talking about being tired after a long day; I mean when you wake up and you are still tired, where you feel like the entire world is moving in slow motion, and your brain has been reduced to a large wad of cotton.

This morning I slept in, and now I feel rested. Yay!

After a similar level of distraction in the computer room yesterday as there was last Sunday, I retreated into my room. And watched a lot of Criminal Minds. And worked on some research.

One thing I noticed from the Criminal Minds a–thon is that in the episodes with a large subplot, the subplot never takes away from the main plot. Some quick information that will help you understand my example better: Criminal Minds is a crime drama about the Behavioral Analysis Unit at the F. B. I. who study behavior in criminals in order to capture them.

For example, in one episode the team goes to Florida to investigate a series of killings believed to be perpetuated by a Satanic cult. Because of the religious aspects of the case, one of the agents has to talk to the local priest. He already has sketchy feelings on faith, so this reopens his wounds. The subplot on this guy’s faith nicely ties into the overall plot of a crazed cultist.

In every episode with a subplot, it always ties into the main plot somehow. If a character is having a crisis of faith, then the main plot in some way deals with faith. If a character is pregnant, she has to deal with a case involving children. This allows you to get to know the character without taking away from the main plot. These subplots actually serve to reinforce the main plot by highlighting another side of the plot or another aspect of the dilemma.

Books should follow suit, and most do. It’s just easier to study TV shows for these purposes sometimes because you can watch several back to back in a shorter span of time that you can read several books back to back.

Has another ever read a book with a subplot that took away from the main plot? How did that affect your reading experience? What about your own work? Do you ever use subplots and how do you make sure they don’t take over?


  1. I can't think of any distracting subplots, but whenever there are several main plots (as in TV drama series with ongoing plot lines and some book series) there's always one plot that I care more about than the others. Usually because I like the characters in that one better. (Rarely occurs in books, but one example would be Katherine Applegate's Making Out series, a guilty pleasure of my early twenties... which followed the lives of several teenagers with their different stories.)

    So I think I'm saying that you probably should have subplots that strictly serve one main plot because if you have several unrelated plots (whether major or minor), you risk losing your readers' attention for entire portions of the book.

    My subplots are usually part of character development, I think. Which hopefully makes sure they don't take over - because they deal with my MC's and their issues which is what my books are usually about anyway. ;-)