Subplots: Structuring and/or Outlining

by David

Question: Is there a specific kind of outline or way to set up and structure a sub plot in a effective way, I have a few subplots and they have conclusions but i was wondering how can I outline it so that it fits seamlessly into the plot and also is a almost "professionally good plot as the main plot would be set up.

Answer: There are different types of subplot, some more developed than others.

In some stories, a subplot may be so well developed as to be practically a complete story in itself - a co-plot if you like. What connects it to the main plot is that it shares the same world, some characters, and perhaps offers a different take on the same theme. In that case, you would develop the subplot the same way you would develop the main plot, having it converge with the main plot at or near the climax of both.

Other subplots are used to explain why a character in the main plot behaves the way he does. For instance, in the first Star Wars movie (Episode IV) the subplot in which Han Solo is being pursued by the bounty hunter is very briefly introduced in order to justify why he needs money so desperately - so he doesn't come across as too selfish. Backstories are often presented for similar reasons.

Usually these minor plots are just partially developed. Only one throughline out of the four may be told. For
instance, the subplot may just show the story of the relationship between two characters, or just the story of how the main character resolved an inner conflict, or just the overall story related to a previous goal.

A third type of subplot is used to explore a relationship between two minor characters in order to bring them to life more.

For instance, let's say you are writing a story about a team of explorers and you have assigned them archetypal roles.

That means you have a loyal and enthusiastic Sidekick - perhaps a plucky young man - and a Skeptic - perhaps an older, experienced man who has grown cynical and risk-averse.

You can develop the relationship between these characters by writing a series of interactions between them throughout the course of the story. Perhaps in their first encounter they disapprove of each other' views. In the second encounter, disapproval can turn to conflict. The climax of the relationship will determine if they become friends or enemies, and the conclusion will show the effect of that outcome. (You don't have to have four interactions, that's just an easy way to explain it.)

Of course, not all relationships are based on conflict. Sometimes a relationship can be about people who inadvertently help or hinder each other. Sometimes it can be about people who act as catalysts for each other, or the opposite of a catalyst. And some relationships may have all of these types of interaction, but on different issues.

Comments for Subplots: Structuring and/or Outlining

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Jul 21, 2012
by: David

Hmm very interesting, i think i got the most use out of the first one but it has elements of the second type also, thanks for your advice.

Jul 24, 2012
Thanks for sharing!
by: Clara27

I really like this answer. It´s both concise and complete. Thank you for sharing it!

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