Subplots are important in a book. They help make the world bigger or develop deep relationships… or do things I’m not thinking of right now…
That being said, it makes me crazy when a subplot is boring. I even see it in published traditional fiction.
There have been plenty of times I’ve wanted to skip a chapter to get to the next part. There are also times when I favor a subplot over the main one for a time. For example, when I’m dying for two characters to get together and try fast forwarding to that intense or steamy love scene (can’t help it, hopeless romantic here).
As many have stated before, a subplot needs to serve a purpose. Some things I’ve noticed lately:
Documentary Style Description
I’ve seen writers treat world building like a history lesson. Over descriptive. Weird pacing. There are many ways to make it less history lesson and more story telling time. Some things I like reading:
- Adding characters to a back story.
- Have a story teller.
- Only mentioning the information that will be relevant to the plot or character development.
Boring Character Development
Speaking of characters, if their back story is boring… you don’t need a whole subplot for it. Some people don’t do much until their world changes! If there isn’t a conflict or a lost relationship or something to make the reader interested, it doesn’t need to be there.
If the characters in your subplot are only waiting for the characters of your main story and their path doesn’t have relevance to the main plot, that also isn’t necessary.
When writing character development subplots, just ask:
- Why do I need this subplot?
- Does it serve the story?
- Will the story suffer without it?
Subplot is Introduced… then never mentioned
When introducing a subplot make sure it has a conclusion. The reader will keep wondering about it otherwise.
Lack of Suspense
As I’ve mentioned before, there needs to be a driving force to the subplot. If nothing notable is happening in it, it will get boring. If the reader doesn’t see any relevance to the story, they may just skip it.
More Interesting Than Main Story
There is another thing that happens to me. Sometimes a subplot is more interesting to me than the main story as I mentioned before. This is a hard thing to juggle, you want it to be interesting but not too interesting… how unfair is that?
This happens to me most with romances in the novel. Sometimes, I just want to see if those two characters can work out their relationship or make it super sexy. I don’t know why but sometimes the relationships become more interesting than the main story.
I mention this as a problem because it makes me not care about the main story anymore. I just keep skipping ahead to get more juicy tidbits from the parts I do like.
This problem may be hard for a writer to identify. I think it would help to make sure this isn’t a problem when taking your work to critique buddies, beta readers, etc.
- What is your favorite part of the story?
- Do you like anything in the story more than (main plot details)?
- How do you feel about (main plot)? Is there anything in the book that you like more?
Serves No Purpose
There are times when a subplot doesn’t serve a purpose. Don’t let it happen though. The reader catches that and wonders why. If you need to elude to something, do it subtle. You can always bring that story back when it becomes relevant.
Sometimes… when the writer takes be back to a subplot, the same thing keeps happening over and over. Or a chapter will go in circles. These things drive me nuts.
There are other times the subplot keeps getting over explained, many times in the book. If you told it to us, we’ll remember. Small references to it later on… that’s all we need 🙂
This is the most important one next to relevance. Knowing when to introduce a subplot is vital. Although, this varies from book to book I will mention this…
It’s difficult when subplots don’t get introduced until the middle of the book. Unless it’s another “book” within the book. If I’m reading a story and the first 100 pages only follows the protagonist, then a subplot gets introduced for one chapter, I get really confused. In fact, I just want to get back to the story.
Make sure your subplot is introduced at the right time. If there is history that needs to be introduced, make mentions of it before throwing that chapter in there. If there is a character back story you want to make a chapter for make sure it’s at the right time to further the story and not too soon.
Timing is a difficult one. As I said, this is a more situational issue. The readers know it when they see it.