Too Many Subplots?

by Josef

Hello, I found this site about a month ago, and it has been an enormous help in planning my first novel. I now have a much greater understanding of how story works, all thanks to your invaluable articles. Thank you very much!


Now for my question. In the process of planning my novel, I have created, in addition to the four essential througlines, nine additional subplot througlines. At least four of them are absolutely essential for the development of my story. Whenever I was creating character bios, I used your article on creating believable, 3-D characters to do so.

However, I think I might have been a little too crazy with how much I developed my lesser characters. Two of them could easily be reduced to background characters and their subplots dropped. At the same time, I feel like describing their stories, however briefly, will strengthen my theme as well as add depth to the world. (If you couldn't tell, I'm one of those writers who likes to create characters first and then work out the plot).

So, my question is this: Where should I draw the line on how many subplots I include in my story? Is there a certain number I should stop at? Thank you in advance for taking the time to respond. I am extremely grateful.

Answer: Sometimes you only know this after you have written a first draft.

Some people's first drafts are huge and messy, and that can be a good thing. Often it's better not to censor yourself at this stage. Include as many subplots as you like. Explore whatever terrain seems interesting. Your plan is there to help you stay more or less on track -- to help you know where you are going.

Creating a second draft can involve cutting what's extraneous in order to bring the core of the story into sharp focus.

You also have to consider at that stage how many point-of-view characters you want. The more there are, the less connection the reader feels with any one character. Many subplots can mean many POV characters. However, readers only need one POV character to connect them to the story. So only include additional POV characters in the second draft when you have a strong reason.

Of course, even if some of these subplots don't make it into the final draft, they will have helped you understand your characters better and can add to the authenticity of the story in more subtle ways.

If you have planned to the point that you feel excited and empowered, and have a clear sense of your story, I suggest you start writing. You will find that the story evolves through the writing process. If you get stuck, go back and revisit or revise your plan until you feel empowered to continue.

Best of luck.

Comments for Too Many Subplots?

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May 05, 2015
Thank You
by: Josef

Thank you for the advice. It is good to know that I can go as crazy as I want now and make cuts later. Thank you also for answering so quickly.


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