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Any resources for sub-plots?

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I was wondering if anyone had some good resources or insights on sub-plots. There are some sub-plot like storylines that keep sneaking into my "fantasy-lite" WIP. I think I've been honest about which ones are there for a reason, either to raise the stakes, support the plot, or build character. But I am having a hard time "tying up" the ones that are left, and I think this is partly to do with the pacing of when the sub-plot is introduced versus when it is resolved. Any advice on getting better at this? My WIP is an upper-MG fairytale, and without some strong sub-plot work I feel that the fantasy world will feel too bland and unmagical.
#1 - July 12, 2012, 01:01 PM

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I don't have any resources for you, but I usually try to make my sub-plots tie into my main plot so neither can really be resolved without the other being resolved.

Hope that helps!

Rue
#2 - July 12, 2012, 01:12 PM
WIP: ETBs 10687/35000 (30.5%)
WIP: IWWP 12045/35000 (34.4%)

Giving critiques can be helpful. :) I think i learned most of my plotting abilities by helping other writers sort out their plots.

I am not sure exactly how to articulate how i choose my subplots to begin with, but I did use note-cards that i'd color-coded by subplot to help me decide what to keep and what to change when i was moving from draft 1 to draft 2 of the current manuscript. Rather than re-write the whole thing here, I'll link to the blog post about it: http://www.westlundink.com/?p=28.

Another bit of advice that i am stealing from Linda Sue Park's talks at a recent retreat: Try it and see. If you aren't sure about a subplot, try it for a while and see where it takes you. It'd be nice to get it all right the first time, but i've never had it work that way yet.
#3 - July 12, 2012, 01:17 PM
« Last Edit: July 12, 2012, 01:19 PM by HDWestlund »

xC0000005

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For plotting and sub plots, I try (and fail at times) to make my main plot point drive the others.  I ask myself, "What do the characters driving each plot point want?"
Then I ask myself how those desires are related, or how I can make them related.  I follow the rule that people go after what they desire, and their actions in the subplots reflect those desires, so if, for instance, I have multiple antagonists who desire power, maybe two of them work for the other one?
If I have two characters who desire their freedom, I make it very different types of freedom and then have them work together toward that.
Then I make sure the plots pretty much deny everyone what they want.  Repeatedly.
As both antagonists and the MC/Sidekick follow their desires, their actions naturally cause them to butt heads, unintentionally, then intentionally, and raise the stakes, worsen the situation, until it can't get any worse.  That's the point at which we reach the climactic conflicts.  Some people get what they want.  Some don't, but the resolution of the side plots drives the resolution of the primary plot.
#4 - July 12, 2012, 01:59 PM

I've been told by agents that while MG *can* support sub-plots, be careful, because it can't support as many as YA. And that it's better to add layers, rather than true sub-plots.
The difference is (briefly) talked about here: http://suebe.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/sub-plots-vs-plot-layer/
#5 - July 12, 2012, 04:21 PM
Robin

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I'm not sure I agree with her definition of a subplot. Subplots *can* involve the main character. For instance, the most common subplot is a romance between the MC and the love interest.

I do agree that MGs shouldn't have too many subplots going on, though. I think one or two max is best.

Hope that helps!

Rue
#6 - July 12, 2012, 04:39 PM
WIP: ETBs 10687/35000 (30.5%)
WIP: IWWP 12045/35000 (34.4%)

Thanks everyone--some really good resources already! Thanks for the help.

I agree about being careful about subplots in MG, but it's definitely upper MG, not for the younger readers. (Actually, an editor who read a chapter described it as "clean teen," but I think it's more tween than teen.)

The difference between plot layers and sub-plot is really interesting; I had not heard the term plot layers before.

In my story, a princess has to achieve a certain goal to maintain her right to the throne. Reaching the goal is challenging in itself, and that is the primary plot. But I want something(s) to be working against her beyond just that the goal is challenging, and with this particular character it would make a lot of sense if some self-sabotage was mixed in. So I played around with a mystery element that she became a little obsessed with solving, and put her in a situation where she had to decide whether to move forward towards her goal, or sidetrack and figure out the mystery element. But I can't figure out how to tie it up. Have her follow the distraction only to realize it was a waste, which makes her learn something about herself? Have her ignore it until it keeps popping up and she can't resist? Or ideally, have her solve the mystery and find out it ties back either to her plot of her character development but in a completely unexpected way? Anyway, the last one is most exciting to me, but I can't figure out how to do it without it feeling formulaic (or overly coincidental). Is that the point at which you would just abandon it?

Thank you for your insights!
#7 - July 12, 2012, 07:09 PM

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Definitely that last one! :)

Don't stress yourself too much trying to figure it out right away, though. Just keep writing with that idea in mind and let your subconscious/muse/creative instinct do its thing.

Hope that helps!

Rue
#8 - July 12, 2012, 08:02 PM
WIP: ETBs 10687/35000 (30.5%)
WIP: IWWP 12045/35000 (34.4%)

xC0000005

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In my story, a princess has to achieve a certain goal to maintain her right to the throne.

I want something(s) to be working against her beyond just that the goal is challenging, and with this particular character it would make a lot of sense if some self-sabotage was mixed in.

Have her follow the distraction only to realize it was a waste, which makes her learn something about herself?
Have her ignore it until it keeps popping up and she can't resist?
Or ideally, have her solve the mystery and find out it ties back either to her plot of her character development but in a completely unexpected way?
Anyway, the last one is most exciting to me, but I can't figure out how to do it without it feeling formulaic (or overly coincidental). Is that the point at which you would just abandon it?

Thank you for your insights!

Oh, this sounds like such fun.  If it were me, I wouldn't be able to choose between, them, so I'd have it be all of them. 

Your princess wants to maintain her position.
So who doesn't want her to do that? 
Would it be someone close to her, who would know about her desire, maybe even encourage her to follow the mystery?
Someone who could plant clues, lead her on?  She gets discouraged, and suddenly there's this wonderful new clue to keep her going?
If it were me, the appearance of the clues themself would be a clue.  "I was just about to give up, and then..."
So the mystery she solves is three fold:
1. <mystery element on the face of it>
2. <Who is misleading her>?
3. <How to recognize that the problem at hand is really a distraction to keep her from accomplishing her goal.

If I were plotting it, that's what I'd do.  That way the character development isn't just solving some ancient princess paradox, it's about her recognizing what she wants as much as anything.  But then again, my take on fairy tales is more than a bit twisted.  (As my main character says "You ever wonder why the lost princess stays lost?  It's because they didn't really want to find her.  If I lose my car keys, you can bet I find them within a few hours.  Then again I like my car keys, and would feel bad if someone took them.")
#9 - July 12, 2012, 08:30 PM

I do think that if it's to do with the princess you're talking about a layer, more, not that the semantics really matter. But ideally the resolution of the sub-plot or layer ties in with the resolution of the primary plot. So, the princess has a goal, but is distracted by a mystery, and somehow the resolution of the mystery connects up with the main goal.

I'm reading Harry Potter #3 to my kids right now. And in the beginning you have all of these disparate parts: Sirius Black is on the loose. Harry sees grims (black dogs) everywhere. Professor Trewlany says he's going to die. Harry wants to go to Hogsmeade but can't because his form wasn't signed. Harry freaks out around dementors. Harry's given a magic map to get to Hogsmeade... and by the end of the book, they've all tied up together into one story with one resolution.
#10 - July 13, 2012, 01:46 AM
Robin

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THE MARSHALL PLAN FOR NOVEL WRITING (Evan Marshall) is the clearest resource I've found on subplots. Marshall presents a detailed outline formula, showing how to interlace subplots (whether for the MC or for other characters) with the main plot, and when to resolve each of them.

However! The Marshall Plan definitely describes adult novels, and I would go so far as to say it's for longer and more complex adult novels. I find it hard to apply to MG, even upper MG.
#11 - July 13, 2012, 05:21 AM

Thanks, Susan. I have heard of the Marhsall Plan but did not know much about it. I will take a look! Makes sense that it's not geared towards MG. I think sometimes having an understanding of a concept, even if it's too complex or not quite right for my actual WIP, is really helpful. So I'll give it a try.
#12 - July 16, 2012, 03:08 PM

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:nothing
#13 - September 15, 2012, 09:49 AM

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