About two weeks ago, my sinuses told me fall was coming.  They’re good at doing that because they don’t like the changing weather.  Since then, the weather in Washington, DC has been in transition — hot out, but not right for summer and not right for fall.  It’s sort of this in-between thing, at times fleeting.  That’s kind of like a subplot in a story.

The definition is often frustratingly vague.  Kay Kenyon defines it as:

Subplots are story lines in addition to the main one. They often feature a different point of view character, but not always. For instance, if your detective falls in love, he may pursue his interest in a way that needs a new plot thread.

Clear, right?


K.M. Weiland chimes in with information on how not to do them:

In fact, too many subplots or the wrong kind of subplots can easily water down your main plot and theme and end up distracting the reader.

Green alien with four arms and pointing lots of guns are us.The first thing I thought of was an action thriller I read.  Through most of the book, the villains were pursuing the main character and her husband, planning to do evil things.  Most intrusive was the hand-wringing subplot about the main character going “Woe is me” about the state of her marriage.  I kept wanting to scream at the book, “Lady, people are trying to kill you!  Worry about the marriage later!”

Maybe it’s stuff like that story that makes me get my subplots as tightly integrated to the plot as possible.  I hate reading a book and feeling like I’ve left the main story back on the road somewhere.

So your turn.  What subplots have you really liked, and what what ones have made you want to throw the book across the room and into the fireplace (if you have a fireplace anyway)?

Wander on by and check out my flash fiction story Sand Dollar Wishes on Writer Unboxed.  No subplots in this story, since it’s flash fiction and under 250 words.  No room!

About the author

Linda Maye Adams Linda Adams has been published in Enchanted Spark and Fabula Argentea and has a non-fiction story in the upcoming Red, White, and True from the University of Nebraska Press. She is a female war veteran from the first Persian Gulf War, and least likely to have been in the army.