Ill-fitting subplots?

by Dylan
(London, UK)

Question: I'm working on a story about a group of 8 teens with special powers, trying to stop dark forces taking over their town. However for the majority of the story only the main character and his best friend know something is going on, while the other characters have their own stories that have little to do with the overall story line. For example, 2 of the characters are a bully and his victim, which is not connected to the impending black cloud of doom that the main character is trying to deal with. Their little journey (an enemies to friends thing) is all but concluded by the climax of the story, and their new friendship plays an important part in the outcome, but until that point it seems to stick out because of its lack of connection to the main plot.

I guess my question is, if half my characters don't know what the story goal is, how do I tie their stories in?

Answer: I think you need to clarify your goal and also the thematic message of your story.

For instance, what is the message, the lesson learned in the story of the bully and the victim? How does that lesson help in the defeat of these dark forces? There's potential for a thematic message there.

Even if all your characters are not involved in the protagonist's primary objective, they should all be focused on the same topic.

For instance, you could have a story where all the characters are seeking love. That doesn't mean they all want the same person. You could have a story where all the characters are obsessed with resolving the past, but each has their own past to resolve. Or you could have a story where everyone is trying to become something they're not - but it will be a different something for each.

In your story, what is it that makes the dark forces a threat? What will be lost if the dark forces win? Is it freedom? Love? The future? Individuality?

What will be gained by defeating them? Friendship? Resolution of past conflicts? A change in attitude? Understanding?

Could the bully and victim be seeking the same thing in the resolution of their conflict?

Once you know what defeating the dark forces means for the town, see if you can tailor your subplots to show that many people in the town are really involved in the same struggle, but on different levels.

Of course, you may also have characters who are opposed to the goal, for their own reasons (the bully, at first?). You may also have someone who is indifferent, or who wants it for someone else.

This also becomes important after the climax. If the goal has been achieved, you'll want to show what happens in the town as a result of defeating the dark forces. How are relationships changed? How are things better than they were at the start of the story or because of the story?

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