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I am working on my very first middle grade for National Novel Writing Month, and I think I have a pretty solid main plot. But I am struggling with the concept of subplots. Does anyone mind sharing how they came up with their subplots in their manuscripts? I know there are a lot of middle grade authors on here.
#1 - November 12, 2015, 02:19 PM

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Without knowing more about your story, this is hard to answer (at least for me!). Maybe think about who your mc is, and his/her interests, hobbies, sports, or friends. Pick one of those, and think about how that could be complicated, but also somewhat related to the overall plot.

The subplot needs to feel organic to your mc and his/her life, or the situations they're in, not manufactured and stuck on them. THAT'S why you start from THEM and work outward.

This is very basic, and probably doesn't help, but maybe it will help get the ball rolling!  :goodluck
#2 - November 12, 2015, 03:01 PM
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For me, subplots often take form as I'm writing. An odd character pops up, or a situation arises that I hadn't anticipated.
#3 - November 13, 2015, 05:15 AM
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Yes, subplots can be tricky things. As mentioned above, it's important that they tie in somehow with your main story, but it's just as important that you don't allow them to take over. Subplots in my stories usually revolve around a secondary character, but still someone very important to your main character.

For example, in A Million Ways Home, the main story line revolves around Poppy and her efforts to help her grandmother recover from a stroke so the two of them can be together again. While on her way to visit her grandma in the hospital, Poppy witnesses a serious crime and is placed under the protection of Trey, a detective. Subplots involve Poppy's efforts to establish a relationship with Trey, and his mother, Marti with whom she's temporarily staying. Marti takes Poppy with her to her job at an animal shelter, and there Poppy meets Lizzy, a young girl struggling to adjust to her parents divorce. Her efforts to help Lizzy change her attitude becomes another subplot, as does her efforts to save a German Shepard she also meets at the shelter.

Hopefully, I haven't confused you! Just trying to show how plots can lend themselves to subplots. Remember too, some subplots are minor and are resolved partway through the book. Others are major and run through to the end. My middle grades usually involve one big subplot and two or three minor ones. No hard and fast rules about this, though. Hope this helps a little bit.  :flowers2
#4 - November 13, 2015, 07:38 AM
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Thank you so much everyone! And Dianna, thanks so much for the example from your book! That really helps.
#5 - November 13, 2015, 08:54 AM

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I usually get an idea for the book and then the subplots grow out of it. For example: In a ms I'm subbing now, the original idea was that something bad had happened at a high school ten years earlier. The MC wants to solve the mystery, because her dad wound up being the scapegoat for earlier bad thing. Her dad doesn't want the MC to solve the mystery, for reasons of his own.

So that gives you Plot 1 - Solve the mystery and Plot 2 - The MC's relationship shift with her father

While trying to solve the mystery, the MC makes new friends, which makes an old "friend" viciously jealous. The jealous old friend makes life miserable for the MC and her new friends, which gives you Plot 3 - How to stop jealous person from ruining the MC's high school life.

Other characters in the story - the janitor and librarian, etc. - have their own backstories which hopefully develop little subplot possibilities in the readers' minds.

The main thing to remember is that each subplot must grow organically out of the main plot, while working together towards the climax. Readers can tell when something is thrown in just for interest or plot manipulation. It pulls them out of the story.

I like it (just my opinion) if one of the subplots has a little humor in it, especially if the book tends towards serious. For instance: In the book I mentioned above, one of the MC's friends is highly superstitious. She provides a little comic relief, and her superstitious nature and good luck charms contribute to the setting and a little to the plot.

Good luck.   :goodluck
#6 - November 13, 2015, 09:27 AM
« Last Edit: November 13, 2015, 09:32 AM by Pons »

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My subplots also evolved organically. It's about who my main character is and how he relates in the world. I made his world as round as possible. Everyone in his life is living in his own story, though the reader doesn't see it. I know those stories, so there are hints. Some of the hints fit in as subplots, some as obstacles for the main character, some as things that help him along, and others are just there in the background. It's all abou him and the people in his life. Keeping it as real as possible helps me.
#7 - November 23, 2015, 03:15 PM

It's been a while sense I've done nano, but I generally don't do subplots.

The best way to put it is, I write a bunch of short stories. Generally stories of people with unhappy lives. Then I like to throw in a character as a deliberate after thought, a pure manifestation of human goodness, and bring joy to their lives.

For example:
How the pauper lost his nickel
How the insomniac lost their sleep.

And then add something that will, at least temporarily, bring joy to their lives and end their torment.

Hope that helps.
#8 - November 25, 2015, 11:21 PM

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Sarah, I think I'd like your short stories.  :star2
#9 - November 26, 2015, 09:37 AM

I really struggled with subplots too though, so you're not the only one. I know when I first started short fiction, the hardest part was figuring out that a novella wasn't suppose to only contain only a single incident like short fiction.

I'm a really big manga fan. One of the things I learned was side-stories are OK so long as it helps to expand a bit on a character, and isn't totally unrelated to the plot. So if subplots aren't working maybe try side-stories.

The scenario I'm thinking of, is if each side-story trickles a little bit of back story over time. For example, say you had a main plot about avoiding deportation having ran away from your parents (a personal favorite universal plot when I grew up reading.) Well you might have little side-stories about how different families they move in with do things that give haunting flashbacks for the main character.

Then the darkness of said themes might depend on if you're doing 8-12 or 10-13 target audience stories. Plus it's less annoying than going--dump, here it all is. Hope you'll digest it.

A little bit at a time to reveal the back story--their hopes, their fears, their self-esteem. And how it correlates with their current goal. A good easy way to work it out it might be: what is the primary ghost. This ghost motivates the primary goal.

Hope that helps.

Side-Note: There is the concept of characters whose current goals don't align with their hopes and dreams. Which is another kind of arc that might be good for subplots.
#10 - November 28, 2015, 08:51 PM
« Last Edit: November 28, 2015, 09:01 PM by SarahW »

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Yes, subplots can be tricky things. As mentioned above, it's important that they tie in somehow with your main story, but it's just as important that you don't allow them to take over. Subplots in my stories usually revolve around a secondary character, but still someone very important to your main character.

For example, in A Million Ways Home, the main story line revolves around Poppy and her efforts to help her grandmother recover from a stroke so the two of them can be together again. While on her way to visit her grandma in the hospital, Poppy witnesses a serious crime and is placed under the protection of Trey, a detective. Subplots involve Poppy's efforts to establish a relationship with Trey, and his mother, Marti with whom she's temporarily staying. Marti takes Poppy with her to her job at an animal shelter, and there Poppy meets Lizzy, a young girl struggling to adjust to her parents divorce. Her efforts to help Lizzy change her attitude becomes another subplot, as does her efforts to save a German Shepard she also meets at the shelter.

Hopefully, I haven't confused you! Just trying to show how plots can lend themselves to subplots. Remember too, some subplots are minor and are resolved partway through the book. Others are major and run through to the end. My middle grades usually involve one big subplot and two or three minor ones. No hard and fast rules about this, though. Hope this helps a little bit.  :flowers2
This is great example Diana and I just bought your book a couple weeks ago and cannot wait for my next writing break on my MG so I can read it! It is at the tippy top of my TBR pile. :)

My current WIP has several subplots but yes, like the others have said, it has to tie into the main plot without taking over. And if your subplot can give you an extra bit of excitement in your storyline that will also work in your favor. For instance, (of course without giving too much:)) one of my subplots doesn't reveal itself until close to the end. There are hints throughout that keep a bit of mystery about my MC and how this subplot ties into her life and it helps to drive her throughout the story. BUT it doesn't take over or take away from the main plot which is key.
#11 - November 29, 2015, 12:05 AM
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This is great example Diana and I just bought your book a couple weeks ago and cannot wait for my next writing break on my MG so I can read it! It is at the tippy top of my TBR pile. :)

My current WIP has several subplots but yes, like the others have said, it has to tie into the main plot without taking over. And if your subplot can give you an extra bit of excitement in your storyline that will also work in your favor. For instance, (of course without giving too much:)) one of my subplots doesn't reveal itself until close to the end. There are hints throughout that keep a bit of mystery about my MC and how this subplot ties into her life and it helps to drive her throughout the story. BUT it doesn't take over or take away from the main plot which is key.
Awwww, thanks :)
#12 - November 29, 2015, 11:07 AM
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 A Million Ways Home (Scholastic 2014)
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I love subplots, and, like Debbie said, mine tend to just develop organically.  Well, not saying they don't require work, but I don't really plan for them to happen.  Like, in one book I wrote, I had these two ideas that eventually overlapped and merged.  Then, I had several different things going on with my main character.  She was having trouble with magic, she met a guy, and someone was trying to hurt her.  Each of these ideas involved different characters and had their own timeline.  One subplot might be affected by another.  In the end, they all converged. 

In the MG book I'm writing, I had this main concept and I kept asking myself questions.  Why was this character evil?  Am I making this boy a stereotypical character?  What happened to make him so angry?  Is there any way I can help him?  All of these questions led to subplots that tied together and enhanced the overall story without taking away from the main plot.

And, I know he's not for children, but Jim Butcher (Dresden Files) does AMAZING subplots that just make me feel like the dumbest person on the face of the planet. 

All that being said, I'm about to post a question about my rebellious subplot.  :bunnyshake
#13 - December 27, 2015, 11:59 AM

For me, it usually happens in layers. Like the first draft is usually just the main plot, although there are always threads I could develop more. Those usually develop into subplots. I don't usually plan or plot subplots, but in revisions, I'm always developing the MC and his relationships with other characters more. In my current WIP, there is a main plot, but there is also a more character-driven plot, and there's a few other minor arcs that involve his relationships with other characters. So, if you haven't already, you might consider adding an inner (more character-driven) plot for your subplot.

For my first book, when I was told by an agent that it was too short, I added in a subplot, but it never felt "right" to me, I think because I added it arbitrarily. It didn't grow out of the story.
#14 - December 29, 2015, 07:17 PM
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I often find that my Plot #1 is the quest for the physical thing the MC wants. Then the subplot develops from it, and is often the emotional thing the MC needs. Then these two parts merge at the end....hopefully!
#15 - December 31, 2015, 03:20 PM
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