Top 10 Tips to Create Subplots for Your Story
by Samantha Stone

Your main plot is finished and your characters are sitting around waiting for your direction. Now, ask yourself what else can happen in the storyline. Adding subplots bring a rounded, more completeness to your concept and can help flesh out characters. It can also keep readers reading who would not otherwise be as interested in the main plot.

But where do subplots come from? Sometimes they're built into a storyline's main plot and show up somewhat automatically. Think of the natural repercussions of any big event.

Other times you must go searching for them. Use the following top 10 tips to hunt down subplots to add depth to your storyline and characters.

1. Brainstorm Natural Subplots

Think of the obvious complications arising from the main plot. Extend those smaller issues plaguing your protagonist or supporting characters.

2. Who Else Has an Agenda?

Maybe not all of your characters have the same goal as the protagonist. Look for rivals, competitors, or even traitors among your supporting characters.

3. Ripples from the Main Plot

Every action has repercussions. Brainstorm what ripple effects comes from your protagonist's actions. Those around your hero or heroine will have opinions. Consider who else in your story will be affected by every choice your main character makes, or doesn't make.

4. Complicating the Hero

Maybe your hero is his own worst enemy. It happens. Think of ways the hero's personality and mindset naturally get in the way of his progress. Maybe your hero wants to train a team of Olympic hopefuls for the bobsled team – in Jamaica. Maybe your hero wants to pursue or extradite a criminal, but is too afraid to fly and must overcome that first. Let your hero get in his own way.

5. Minor Romantic Threads

You can have a subplot of romantic interest in a non-romance to give the characters a more rounded personality and add another dimension to the storyline. Look for attractions between your characters – even in the enemy's camp – to add tension and depth. A love triangle simmering in the background of an espionage or western story immediately raises the stakes for at least three characters.

6. Lightening Up

As Shakespeare well-knew, too much drama or tension eats up a reader or viewers' nerves. Adding humor – in Shakespeare's case, clowns – to a story can offset tension build-up and give the readers a breather from the action. Be sure that any humor blends with the storyline or you'll end up with a ‘commercial break' or ‘out-take' rather than simple relief.

7. Growth Spurts

Use subplots to bring about character development. Some character tweaks don't fit well within your main plot, but can be woven into a character's profile with side-plots. Just as sports drills work particular skills for an athlete, subplots can condition a character for later obstacles. Forcing character development into a main plot where it doesn't belong will look contrived and obvious.

8. The Appeal of Supporting Roles

Giving the secondary characters life sometimes lets them take on a storyline of their own. This is fine, but don't let them overshadow the protagonist for too long.

9. Strong Undercurrents

Some genre fiction lends itself easily to sending a message – maybe even your theme. This doesn't work for every genre, but views such as environmentalism, politics, morality, and philosophy can also be leavened into the plot. However, avoid letting any message override the story you are telling.

10. Don't Detract

Don't let subplots take over the main plot; don't even let them finish a close second. If the subplot is threatening the main plot, tone it down, or even save it for another book. If what started as a subplot begins to take over the story, reconsider how vital it is; perhaps it's part of the main plot. If so, rewrite.

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