Subplots: Making a Story a Novel

Not too long ago, I had my students each write a paper on ways to become a better author. And for the next few weeks, you’ll get to read what they came up with.

Have fun reading their work!

Our first post comes from Lisa Reynolds who is writing the story of a girl who is a talented violinist who performs in secret.

Most potential writers have the idea for his or her big story. When we write, we just want to get our idea out before it disappears. Then we write and write until our character wins, or loses, as the case may be. The problem with this approach is some people end up with the Super-Long Short Story.

We move from short story to novel by adding subplots. Jerome Stone says, “The plot grows out of what helps and what hinders characters’ progress toward their goals.”

Characters add subplots fast because each has problems that affect other people. Every character in a story should add a problem that interferes with your main character’s goals. Again, Stone says, “Situations take place inside situations that are within situations.” When our characters interact they create the subplots.

Some of these problems can be dealt with quickly. Others become subplots that run throughout your novel.

Our character may encounter something not quite as flesh and blood as another person. They find problems within themselves or in nature. A character’s past, or perhaps a blizzard, needs to be overcome. Jerome Stone explains that the ordinary trials of life build tension and plot.

It’s easy to throw another problem at our character but when do we stop? We can create additional people and weather or car problems all day long, but our novel has to end somewhere.

Look at the story from our readers’ eyes. If we the writer, becomes confused because new characters pop up, so will our readers. Novels are meant to be complex, but clear.

If my character goes to high school, odds are he or she has between 500 and 2000 classmates. Pick a couple interesting people and develop them. You could even have the main character have a problem with a certain clique. But do not develop every person in the group or school.

Characters don’t just encounter problems in one place. A teenager can have problems at home and work, not just school. Look at all the possible characters and their problems. Find the ones that interest you and stick them into your story.

1 Comment

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One response to “Subplots: Making a Story a Novel

  1. Great post, Lisa! I particularly like this quote: “The plot grows out of what helps and what hinders characters’ progress toward their goals.” My writing is character driven and I struggle with plotting. Enjoyed this post very much. Thank you =)


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