Thursday, March 13, 2014

Friday's Focus: Subplots and Plot Threads

Most of my writing is pretty clear cut. Since I write mostly for "tweens" ( ages 10-13), there aren't many subplots, maybe one or two, but that's all.

In my new WIP, however, subplots abound. To the point that I've realized that some things need to be changed, rewritten entirely, or perhaps even eliminated. More work, and I haven't even finished the first draft. However, if I don't get those subplots under control, that first draft is going to be one major mess to edit and revise.

Subplots have always kind of defeated me, in that I've never been entirely sure just how to work them in and get them to the end of the story, all tied up in one nice, neat, and logically concluded package. Now, however, I've learned of a new way to think of subplots, and it's beginning to make more sense to me.

How is that? To think of your subplots as threads, instead of subplots. Think of a piece of clothing: the material is made up of threads, right? Each thread has a purpose, but the end result is a solid piece of material. Thus, each thread is singular and important, but eventually comes together and meets every other thread to form a whole piece. Of material, that is.

So, first of all, you have to identify your plot threads. This shouldn't be hard to do, because first of all, any time an event happens that makes the reader want to know "what happens next," that event becomes a thread. Let me give you an example from my WIP: Zahra is talking to Henri. That in itself is not an event, but when Henri hands a note ot Zahra and her face pales when she read it, that becomes a thread. And you as the writer must follow that thread to the end. What does the note say? Why does she turn pale when she reads it? What will happen next?

You need to go through your novel page by page to find those little things you have happening to your characters that don't really count as major issues. When they don't count as major, they still can become important to the story as threads...better known in the past as subplots.

The next thing to do is to count everything you think can be a thread. Events aren't the only things that can be counted as a thread. Suppose your MC is afraid of something happening or not happening: you can't just leave that up in the air, you have to work her fears, whatever they are, into the story and put them to rest, one way or another. Thus, you have another thread...or more, as the case may be, because her fears, or even her thoughts if they can have consequences, become threads. Each of these threads has a life of its own, a purpose, but in the end, it must come together with each of the other threads to combine into a whole. A whole and complete story, that is.

We already know that a simple, straightforeward story line is just that...simple, and usually uncomplicated. Great for a younger kid's book, but totally unacceptable for MG, YA, or adult books. If you are writing an adult book, multiple threads, as in 9, 10, 11, are fine, and intriguing...if you can keep them all straight, don't intertwine them together into a stranglehold, and can keep them going logicall until the conclusion of your story.

If you are writing MG/YA, you had better keep those threads to no more than 5 or 6, and make very sure that they all come together at the end, with no split ends flying around. Kids of any age HATE that, and probably won't ever pick up another book by you, just for that reason.

For all threads, but especially in adult writing where you might have 8 or 9 or even more, you must make sure each thread connects to your main plot.  If the note Henri gave to Zahra has no impact on the overall storyline, and it's just a little love note she wasn't expecting, so she tears it up and that's the end of that, it is not a thread because it doesn't connect to the overall story. However, this example comes from my WIP, and the note absolutely has something important to do with the story, so therefore it IS an independent thread. My problem, therefore, is to make sure I can weave this thread into the basic fabric of my story at the end, to become the complete "garment."

With all your threads, you must do just that: make sure they fit into the fabric of your story, and can be woven into the final design.

If you find you have 'threads' that go nowhere and connect with nothing, you must delete them. Yes, no matter how beautifully written they are, no matter how they glow as independent thoughts or events or even characters, you must kill your darlings off if they don't fit properly into your story. If these threads are fly-by-night wisps of fuzz, then GET RID OF THEM!!

When you ferret out all of these threads, you must understand which ones relate to one another, and will eventually interweave into the final fabric of your story. If they don't do this, they will eventually unravel, and you will have exposed threads hanging out of your completed storyline. Then it will be too late to snip them off.

Confusing? Not really. Substitute the word "subplot" if you must every where I've used thread.It still works. Well, maybe not as an anology for fabric, but no matter what words you use, the idea is still the same: continuity of plot lines, or threads, is very important to your story, and in the end, everything must come together logically so the conclusion of the story is understood, and nothing is left hanging out. Or fuzzy. Or flying around.

Now I must leave you, and go searching for all those threads in my WIP that I'm sure are VERY important to the overall storyline...or not.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

18 comments:

  1. I like your analogy of "thread". I've found my "threads" need to be planned and followed closely to make sure they are all neat and tidy at the end. Sometimes they take more work than the main plot. A writer friend calls them "under tows" and says they are part of the "current" of her story. I say- whatever works.

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    1. Yes, it doesn't really matter what you call a subplot as long as you follow it through to a logical climax and resolution, AND it connects to the main plot. Sometimes not easy to do.

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  2. Thank you, Mikki, for this great post. I love the threads analogy.

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    1. Thanks, Matt, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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  3. Mikki, great post. I often discover subplots -- or threads -- as I'm writing the first draft, and then have to go back and make a few alterations to make sure everything comes together. In my first sci fi novel, my main character (age 14) wakes up in the middle of the night and (spoiler) his grandfather and another character kissing. In the first draft, I left this character unidentified - but my writing buddy asked me if this were in fact one of the other characters, as the two appeared, by the end of the book, to be falling for each other.

    Then I had to go back, insert B. into the scene, make a few alterations to show the growing interest A. and B. had in each other -- and provide a resolution to the whole thing by the end of the book {phew}. There were'nt that many actual words changed .. I simply needed to emphasize some things I'd kind of glided over.

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    1. LOL Not laughing at you, but you remind me of what I'm doing with my WIP. I'm realizing I have many threads to either rework, or eliminate. If I eliminate any, then I have to revise what is left of the chapter(s), to take them out completely. WOW! I hope I don't find many that have to be deleted!

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  4. Great analogy, Mikki! Thanks for sharing, and good luck with your threads!!!

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    1. Thanks Mary, I'm afraid I'm going to need all the luck I can get!

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  5. That's a great way to describe the use of sub-plots, Mikki, and very useful.Thanks!

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    1. Thanks, Helena, I hope this helps to weed out those pesky ones that are unnecessary, and interweave those that are. I also hope other writers don't have as much trouble as I do with "threads!"

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  6. Great post, Mikki! I love books with multiple subplots. It's so much fun to see how everything weaves together in the end!

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  7. Really enjoyed this weeks post, Mikki. I have found that if I don't really pay attention in the first draft, my subplots will get away from me and go wild and crazy. Then the second and third and fourth drafts are very hard to clean up and make sense of. Glad to see it's not just me that has sub-threads that get a little out of control now and then.

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    1. Oh, no, you're not the only one, Courtney! I'm going back through my WIP now, and finding a couple "threads" that probably need to be eliminated. Others I still have to work with.

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  9. Mikki, great post on subplots! Thank you.

    I was wondering where you got your information about the number of subplots in an adult novel? From a writing book? It seems like 9-11 would be an awful lot of subplots. Just wondering.

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    1. Nine to 11 is way too many for me to deal with, Susan, but I've read several articles that say you CAN have that many, not that you have to. I have 6, I think, in my paranormal WIP, and am having to work very hard to get them to "interweave." Any more and I'd be tearing my hair out.

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  10. Mikki,

    I've nominated you for the Sunflower Award! Check it out http://allynstotz.blogspot.com/2014/03/last-week-spotlight-was-on-author.html

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  11. Mikki,

    I've nominated you for the Sunflower Award, Check it out http://allynstotz.blogspot.com/2014/03/last-week-spotlight-was-on-author.html

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