Writing a novel, or a novel-length story, is a huge juggling act. You have characters, plot, conflict, setting, and now you have to add subplots. I sincerely hope you didn’t decide to juggle flaming chainsaws if this is your first time.
I’ve always thought subplots could be the most interesting part of a story. I mean, yeah, you pick up a novel and read it for its main plotline. But the subplots of a story are what make it really interesting.
When I’m writing, I generally don’t plan out every little detail so that I don’t ever feel trapped. Half the time, subplots appear out of nowhere and the other half of the time, subplots turn into main plots because they’re more interesting.
I have a hard time juggling them.
I have a hard time juggling, period.
Every scene in your story should do two things: push the story forward and reveal something about your characters. If they don’t, why are they there in the first place?
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I like to write certain scenes simply because they’re fun. I want to see what my characters will do in specific situations, but that doesn’t mean that they’re useful scenes. But it’s often in these scenes that I develop a subplot. I write an interaction between a few characters, a problem arises, and I’ll stop and think, “Wait a second. Now that could be interesting.”
Interesting is my way of saying, I’m going to put my characters through as much pain and suffering as possible because it’s fun. Don’t worry. All authors enjoy torturing their characters in the worst possible way. It’s completely normal.
Although now that I think about it, maybe you should be a little worried.
Oh, right. Subplots! See what I did up there? That little part where I deviated from the main topic? I do that all the time. You could call it a subplot of this post. If this were a novel, I would spend the rest of the time balancing between telling you about subplots and writing them because telling you about them is boring. If I show them, both of us are more entertained.
See, showing is better than telling. Those crazy rules people tell you about writing are (usually) true!
I did it again. I deviated. I wasn’t kidding when I said that I was really bad at juggling between subplots and main plots. I honestly have very little idea about how I incorporate them into my novels. There’s no set formula, it just happens. To me, subplots come about very naturally. The only thing you have to watch out for is that your subplots don’t become so big that they overwhelm your main plot.
Then again, if that does happen, maybe it’s a good thing. It means you’re telling the wrong story.
But that’s something to figure out during the editing stages. And you can’t do that until you’ve actually written the entire novel.
Somebody should throw something at me every time I get off topic. But I really don’t want to drop these knives that I’ve been juggling so maybe that’s not such a great idea.
When you start learning to juggle, start simple. Use tennis balls, A.K.A. one subplot. Then you can move up. Before you know it, you’ll be juggling flaming chainsaws while riding on a unicycle across a trapeze with no safety net!
But stick to the tennis balls first. It takes a lot of practice before you can juggle chainsaws at all, let alone those that are on fire. You’ll learn that in Juggling 201.