When I’m writing a story, the main plot can be summarized in a sentence (you can find it for each of my novels on their respective pages in my website). However, just as in life we have more than one thing going on at a time—we study, work, have family and friends, relationships, we think about society, politics, the environment and what gift to buy for a birthday—characters, however fictional they may be, are just as complex.
This brings me to the concept of the subplot: a secondary plot that supports or is somehow intertwined with the main plot. Different characters may be involved in the subplot, and for Aristotle, the characters were defined as main or secondary depending on the plot their story developed in (no, I don’t know a lot about Aristotle, I just had to write a paper and I referred to some of his theories a short while ago, and I remember them).
Subplots are important to any story because they give more depth to characters, their motivations and their decisions, and because they can provide more information to the readers or, when necessary, a contrast in mood or tones.
For example, in my series The Five, while the main storyline usually has to do with the group fighting together for something—except for A Personal Investigation—there are plenty more things going on. Some of the characters also have to deal with exams and classmates (Mara in A Full Moon’s Night, Leila in A Failing Condition). Georgiana Smith, for example, has to cope with her past as she learns about her were situation, while Ryan Forde has to handle the issue about his mother—until it is resolved in A Personal Investigation. Sky Woodsworth’s relationships, and how she confronts her grief, are also a subplot, and Aidan Scott has a lot to face as well in his personal life, in addition to the more pressing threats.
If a story is linear and there are no obstacles that come up, or if the characters’ development is limited to the main storyline, readers may just not be as interested or they may find the story somewhat lacking.
I’m not saying that that is necessarily the case, but it’s one of my reactions when I read stories that have no subplots, or that have subplots that are resolved quickly and with no apparent connection to the main plot.
Do you have any favorite subplots? Do you think complex stories need them?