by Dana
(Sacramento, California)

Question: How important is it to have a subplot that runs through much of the story? If an otherwise good story lacks one, would most agents or publishers consider that a flaw worthy of rejection?

I've finished my novel, and think I have a good story. One of my beta readers feels it needs a subplot that's stronger and appears more frequently than the minor ones I've created, just because I thought I had to. What do you think? Thank you.

Answer: I think you have to ask yourself what the purpose of such a subplot would be.

The best reason for having a subplot is to explore a thematic issue more fully by showing it from a different perspective or in a different scenario than in the main plot. Shakespeare did this quite often and he has been copied ever since.

Another reason is to illustrate how the story goal is something that concerns or affects everyone in the story world, but in different ways. (For example, in Pride and Prejudice the goal is to find a good marriage, but it's not just the main character, Elizabeth, who wants one. The subplots concerning her sister Jane's romance with Bingley and her sister Lydia's flirtations with soldiers help show that everyone has this goal.)

Other reasons that are less valid include...

* Varying the emotional tone (Shakespeare did this too when he inserted a subplot that concerned lower class people or humour when the main plot was more serious and concerned upper class people).

* To create a sense of authenticity by showing that minor characters have things going on in their lives as well. (This, however, is a pretty weak reason.)

* Exploring the relationship between minor characters (again, this is best used as an opportunity to explore a theme from a different angle).

* Lengthening a work that is too short. This is the worst reason for creating a subplot and probably should never be done.

If you look around, you will find lots of successful novels that don't have subplots.

Honestly, if you have a good story with an engaging plot, rich characters, an interesting voice, and emotional depth... and is novel length ... that should satisfy a publisher. (An interesting subject and a well developed thematic argument are bonuses.)

Unless you're writing for a specific line that has strict rules (and subplots are the rule) I wouldn't worry.

Comments for Subplots

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by: Dana

Fantastic! Thank you, Glen! This story is already more than 400 pages, cut down from 700+. It doesn't need any more text to make it a book, and everyone who's read it, so far (including an attorney) has liked it. Thank you very much!

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