Last week, during our tri-weekly writers’ group meeting, I shared a chapter from Beholder’s Eye that one of our members called the “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” chapter. It delved briefly into the main character’s wife and a recent development in her job. It doesn’t affect the main plot per se, and could’ve even been taken out, but overall we concurred that it made the story feel more real—which was the whole point of the chapter, so I’m happy the point got across.
Subplots are important to make the characters feel more real—or round if we all remember our English composition days when the discussion of flat and round characters came up. Think of your favorite novels. Chances are you know the main plot (i.e. what the story is about). And, I reckon, there were multiple subplots underneath it to make the story seem more real. Take Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The main story is about “bringing the One Ring to Mount Doom to destroy it.” Subplots? There are tons! Where do I begin? I think each and every character in the enormous epic fantasy tome had a subplot all their own.
Take Harry Potter. Main plot is an orphan who discovers he’s a wizard, and is hunted by the evil wizard who also killed his parents. Subplot? Also, several. His encounters with Draco Malfoy and even his forced education from Snape, are two such examples.
What else could be going on with your character? What could make them more real? Give it a try.
What other examples from literature do you know of that the subplots enhance the main plot?