Here’s the thing about subplots. They don’t have to be your best friend, but you should treat them like your best friend’s hot sister. Nobody’s asking you to spend a lot of time getting to know her. (But let’s be honest. Would they have to ask?) Just make sure the time you do invest is quality. It’ll totally pay dividends in the end.
Be good to your subplots. Show them you understand their complexities and you know their worth. Make them believe that their development is as important to you as the other plots that occupy the majority of your day. You wish that you had more time to devote, but it wasn’t meant to be.
You and your subplots are star-crossed lovers. Victims of circumstance, meeting in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps in another life you’ll have more time for each other. Maybe the universe will do you a solid the next time around.
But rather than bemoan what the fates have given you, it’s better to seize this moment, this day, no matter how brief. Cherish the time you have together and make it something special. If time is the enemy, then ally yourself with memory. Write a story worth remembering. One that outlives its own fleeting arc.
Dare to write something great, even if you know it’s not going to last. Never hold back from that impulse. Don’t fall into the trap of waiting for something better to come along or thinking some idea is so wonderful that you want to save it for an even better story. Don’t save the good stuff. Use it all now. You’ll be making room for even better stuff a little further down the line.
Never wait. Take what’s in front of you now. Seize the moment that presents itself. Tell that fantastic, wild, crazy, romantic story, even if it is just a subplot. Because those moments will make your book better. Subplots provide depth, for both your characters and the story.
It’s often in these little side streets and detours that we glimpse the human sides of our characters. Whether it’s the pursuit of a love interest or the protagonist dealing with the fallout from an old family squabble, use these stories to show what makes your character tick. Show what makes them great, and be honest about what makes them far less than perfect.
Subplots will help your story seem more like life, because none of us has just one thing going on at a time. We’re all pulled in a million different directions, and hardly anyone does everything well. It’s okay to have your protagonist fail every once in a while, and maybe a lesson learned pursuing a side goal will help them better understand what’s happening as the greater story unfolds.
Even as I encourage you to spend time developing and refining your subplots, it’s important to remember that subplots exist to serve the overall story line. If it weren’t for the story question of your novel, your subplot would have no reason to exist. It’s not enough to just treat your subplots like they matter. You also have to give them a reason to be.
Don’t have your protagonist picking blackberries in chapter four just because you happen to like blackberries. Make sure he or she has a reason to be there. Reveal something about your character, whether it’s a memory or a regret or a secret hidey-hole where they stash their spare gun. Everything serves a purpose, and every subplot serves the main story line.
If you find yourself writing something that doesn’t meet this standard, cut it. Move on. You have better things to do. Not everyone’s sister can be hot, and you only have so much time to invest.