I have to admit, I adore Phil. I actually wish I could miniaturize him and carry him in my purse wherever I go. We all need a Phil in our lives – a champion, a believer, and a colleague who supports you and yours. Seriously, everyone should consider adopting a mini-Phil. (Except for Phil; that’d be a bit weird – right?)
Phil holds not only a warm spot in my writing heart, but he also holds my admiration and respect. He is the author of The Third Face and writes a lovely blog (you can find it here @ Ephix Books) and explores the innards and outards of writing by using himself as a guinea pig. Not that many authors can be that open and honest with themselves on such a public forefront and I tip my hat to him.
The writing world is your oyster, sir – as the famous saying goes…
Subplots – Friends or Fiends?
by Phil N. Schipper
One of the joys of a novel is the fact that you have plenty of time for subplots. Subplots are little side stories that add variety and complication to the main plot. Writers are quick to suggest throwing them in as a remedy for early-stage writer’s block. But wait! One thing you might not think is that, later, they can actually create writer’s block. Today, let’s look at subplots from both sides.
Many of us have a knack for creating a beginning and an end: one is there to introduce the world, and one is to give us the climactic moment that resolves everything. It’s kind of tougher to describe exactly what you should do in the middle, though. The answer we usually see is “build up to the ending,” as if that solved our conundrum.
This is probably why new writers get five or ten or twenty pages in before deciding that the story is going nowhere, and starting over. I’m guilty of it myself! And this is what causes more experienced writers to suggest a subplot. (More often than not they’ll tell you what subplot they want, but remember it’s your book.) Subplots aren’t just there to add length to the story, though. They generate interest and stop your storyline from going flat, especially in the middle.
A subplot is kind of a story within a story, so it should have its own beginning, middle, and end. And since they’re shorter and in the background, their middles don’t have to be big or complicated. They can just develop naturally while you focus on other things. By the time you get all these little things going at once, your middle will be moving right along. By the time you add in a twist or two to the main plot, you’ll stop worrying about whether you have enough ideas to fill out a whole story.
Okay, I’ve talked about the good side of subplots for a while. But, like anything else, it’s all too easy to get carried away and have too much of a good thing. Have too many subplots and you’ll be drowning in them. Make the subplots too big and the reader will forget what the main story actually is.
The same thing can apply while you’re writing. If your story has a bunch of different perspectives you’ll never be able to start a chapter until you’ve gotten everything in the proper order—whose story is best to continue with? How long has it been since you visited each one? Do you want to mix the order up a bit? Until you’ve answered all those questions you’re probably not going to continue writing.
This is where you have to turn to something a lot of writers are loath to do. Write the part you most want to write at the moment, and don’t worry about the order at all. You can always rearrange them later! Just make sure it makes sense when you do. If you want you can even try writing just one character’s story at a time, until it converges back into the main plot.
Subplots are just like any other device for storytelling: it’s usually a good idea to include them, but don’t overuse them. Like many things in life, subplots are best enjoyed in moderation.