Sandra Jones · writing advice

Subplots: The Other Stories in the Story


When I begin a new project, I start with the main premise, the setting, the characters, and basically everything except the subplot. I generally write subplot as I write the first draft with no planning involved. I depend on my characters to dictate their own subplots, and that usually works for me. (Although my current WIP is being uncharacteristically stubborn in this department!)

I like to think of a story as a hamburger. The main plot is a hamburger patty and the subplots are the toppings—cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickles. You can have a plain hamburger, but it’s so much better with the extras.

Wish for the Moon

In my medieval WISH FOR THE MOON, the main plot had a modern-day heroine, Carrie—an epileptic—traveling through time to the 13th century with a very reluctant knight (Matthias). There were a few subplots that developed, including Matthias’s brother being poisoned, and the hero’s past indiscretion with his sister-in-law. These subplots worked because they were ingrained in the character’s back-story. The main plot involved Carrie being stranded in the Middle Ages, but the other people in Matthias’s life had their own stories, which were also evolving. I had done enough planning with these characters that I knew how they would react in their subplots and how these threads would be tied up. Additionally, these extra stories helped intensify the conflict in the main plot. Matthias had enough trouble trying to keep Carrie safe in his world, but add to that a jealous earl (his own brother) and the would-be murderer, and you get chaos!

Suddenly the stakes were much higher.

The romantic plot can also be considered a subplot in a traditional romance. There should be a conflict or reason why these two people cannot be together, and then events (likely from the main plot & subplots) help bring them together.

These subplots reveal things about the characters’ personalities and help them complete their growth. They help pacing and add intimate moments. They change the mood and provide opportunities for action. In my short story, HER CHRISTMAS KNIGHT, the heroine’s sister was extremely flirtatious and, at times, lewd and impractical. The end of the story revealed her true motive. Her actions in the subplot ultimately helped instigate the union between the hero and heroine.

Sometimes I grow so attached to subplots and secondary characters that I want to know more. Subplots create great beginnings for books in a series.

Don’t sweat subplots. Have fun developing them and watch how they make the story so much better than a plain burger.

Post by Sandra Jones.