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Sub-plots--What proportion?

682 Views 9 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  Douglas Milewski
So I self-published a novel last December. It was my first attempt at a novel and while it didn't set the world on fire, I was proud of the final results even though the novel had some flaws. I am working on plotting out the 2nd and 3rd books in the planned trilogy.

One of the main things I want to do in the future books is to balance out the sub-plots a bit. The first novel had a number of entwined plot arcs but I am not sure in the end if everything was as balanced as I would like.

The novel I am writing is contemporary and more character driven so I feel these sub-plots are important to the overall story, but at the same time, I am trying to balance out the subplotsso the story doesn't go off the rails.

For those writers here who have subplots in their novels, I am curious as to how much space you have allotted in your works towards subplots versus the A plot line. I know it is not a formula and needs to be somewhat organic, but any thoughts on the proportions of the A plot versus sub-plots in your novel would be appreciated. For example, did you find you had a 70-30 split? something else?

All thoughts appreciated.
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How many words are your books? What genre? Contemporary... what? 

I write contemporary romance. My books are typically 55K. I don't do subplots at all at that length. But that's my preference. I feel like I'm robbing my readers of what the book was advertised to be about.
Hi, my first novel was what I would call contemporary women's fiction--a coming of age story.

It clocked in at about 120K words which is, in my opinion, too long for commercial fiction unless its amazing.

I am hoping to get in the 70-90K range this time around.
Hmm, yeah plot vs. sub-plot is something I struggle with a lot too.  Part of me feels like a more sub-plot based story is more grounded in reality, but a plot centered story probably makes for a better read.  Like, when I think about it, how often have I actually had a villain in real life?  Or when did I know exactly what I should be doing?  Have I ever really had to storm the castle?  Those kind of things might make for a great plot of a story, but that's it, it's a story.  Having more minor but more immediate sub-plots actually adds a bit of gravity for me, believe it or not, because that's more like a real thing.

I don't really know what to tell you.  Somebody will probably have a good analysis of what a story should be, but me, I just got more questions.  My only definite is that I always want to do more light-hearted chapters than serious ones.  Probably 60-40 lighthearted to serious.  Meh, probably 70-30.

Hope that the 2nd and 3rd ones in the series go great!
What is your sub plot in relation to the overall plot. I don't me percentages, but a brief outline.
In general, the sub-plots are all relationship focused. Because the story is more character driven, the sub-plots are meant to help advance the protagonist's personal development in the series.
I find that the most important thing is to finish strongly with the main story, however many side stories there were.

I write contemporary romance mixed with women’s fiction/romantic suspense/contemporary fiction that tend to range from 110k-140k these days. A lot of threads! The epilogue is key. When I’ve left it out (usually because I was worn out, honestly), the throughline/main relationship of the book can feel a little underbaked. The reader tends to remember most what you leave her with. 

ETA: no idea about percentages.

Also: lots of great-selling contemporary romance, at least, is quite long. The more evergreen stuff tends to be longer. Meatier stories or whatever. My readers at least love long books. I don’t think that is a deterrent as long as you are holding their attention.
[quote author=ldparker link :)=topic=324825.msg3905945#msg3905945 date=1595899142]
In general, the sub-plots are all relationship focused. Because the story is more character driven, the sub-plots are to help advance the protagonist's personal development in the series.

From what you say, the sub-plot/s, is/are, an important aspect as to how the protag will change with their character arc over the series and how they will develop through their expriences. You can't have too many or too few scenes that help this on its way as long as you don't lose sight of the overall plot to keep it within whatever is your target genre and readership. Hopefully, how your protag changes will lead to whatever changes in character traits and experiences you have set up as sub-plots which will assist the protag in the final outcorme of the trilogy.

The only thing to avoid is having scenes that will not have a bearing on the outcome that will bore the reader to death and lose their interest if the sub-plot goes off at a tangent. They will spot if you are using the scenes to fill out the story.

Sub-plots can create a more dynamic story.

I wouldn't sacrifice them to your word count demands.
If you write bigger stories then break and shuffle them into multiple books, don't limit them to just a trilogy.

I use sub-plots as noise.

Without subplots, it's one-two-three done!

Subplots are what keeps you from writing in a straight line. The characters must now compromise. The more sub-plots, the more compromises, the longer the novel, so adjust sub-plots to your desired word count.

Start with too many and winnow them down, or have new ones rear their ugly heads at inopportune times. It's best if you do this while you're writing a chapter, so that you can integrate well with the story. You generally know if a section is too fast or slow. Myself, I always go back and trim the uninteresting sub-plots on revision.
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