Saturday, September 25, 2010

Too Many Subplots, Oh Yeah

I picked this topic because the other day one of my critique partners, Marcella Burnard, received a request from her publisher, Berkley Sensations, to delete one of the subplots in Enemy Games, the second book in her series of kick-ass heroines. And this isn't the first time I've heard of a publisher asking a writer to take something out of their story. It got me to thinking . . .

I've noticed stories I like best have one to three subplots. More than that and the story becomes muddy. I can't juggle all the threads in my little pea-brain. Then why do so many writers make the mistake of adding too many subplots. Because we like 'em. It's fun to add another complication to story that we're positive the reader will find thrilling to read. Which is where we go wrong. From beginning to best-seller, we erroneously believe more makes our story better, so we keep adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Dare I say, with subplots, the motto should be less is more.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with having subplots. They have their uses. They flesh out a story in several ways. They keep the reader motivated to continue reading. In a plot-driven story, it's best to make your subplot about characterization. Take Peter in Spider-man--while saving the city is also in love with Mary Jane. The romance is a subplot. In a character-driven story, give the subplot an outside source. In Thelma and Louise, two women try to find themselves--while having the greatest adventure of their lives eluding the authorities.

What does a subplot consist of? Like the main theme of your story, it should have a beginning, middle and ending. A good subplot should complicate the main story. If it doesn't all it's doing is weakening the main focus of the plotline. Take it out. Subplots can be complex, red herrings, short or long. Always remember subplots should add dimension to your story, not take away from the main plot.

Has anyone had to cut a subplot? How you feel?


  1. Anyone else guilty of adding a subplot to increase word count? *Raises hand* :-) Yeah, I end up having to take those ones out. But subplots that are natural to the storyline are great. I like it when a romance has two love stories in one. But you're right. I can't remember reading a book that had more than 3 or 4.

  2. It's just natural for writers to want to add twists and turns to a story. It is part of our creative nature.

  3. I don't tend to think in terms of adding and subtracting subplots, and more in if the story is being told the way I see it in my head. lol I'd hope to never have to cut one out though. Seems like it'd be challenging. Great post, Darcy!