What is a Subplot?
As you’re writing your story, you may start to notice your plot going in a different direction than you originally planned. Typically, your story is never just about your protagonist taking on a horde of dragons, character A falling in love with character B, the chosen one saving the world, or any other epic journey you’ve conjured up. A subplot is, by definition, a “secondary strand of the plot that is a supporting side story for any story or the main plot” (Wikipedia).
There are often multiple conflicts that your protagonist is trying to deal with. Maybe while the star football player is struggling to get into college, he’s also falling for someone on the team. The princess might be trapped in a tower, but she could also be trying to unravel a royal scheme. Most well-written and well-thought-out plots also come with amazing subplots to keep the story interesting and your readers engaged.
What Does a Subplot Do?
If you’re a first-time writer, you may think a subplot is something completely separate from the main plot, but that’s not the case. You’re not telling two different stories. If a subplot doesn’t connect to the main storyline and themes, then it’s not accomplishing its goal. Your subplot should be seamlessly woven into your main plot to communicate your theme and ideas.
Think of the Harry Potter series, which does a great job interweaving subplots in each book. In Sorcerer’s Stone, we follow the main plot of Harry Potter discovering he’s a wizard and stopping Voldemort’s return by finding the stone. But we also follow several subplots, such as his blossoming friendship with Ron and Hermione, Hagrid and his dragon, and Harry’s growing animosity with Malfoy—all of which contribute to introducing the wizarding world.
To test if your subplot is strong enough, try removing it from your story. If the main plot, characters, and themes are unaffected, then the subplot needs work to have more of an impact. If that’s the case, see if the subplot’s motivations align with your characters since they’re the ones driving the story.
Types of Subplots
These three types of subplots are good to keep in mind when you’re outlining so that you can see how your subplots affect the larger plot. This will help you plan scenes better, help you see your characters’ behavior grow and change, and solidify the themes you want to convey.
Ways to Introduce a Subplot
Does your Subplot Elevate Your Story? (A checklist)
-Does the subplot seamlessly weave into the main plot?
-Does it develop the characters?
-Does it follow/enhance your story structure?
-Does it play a role in your climax?
is an avid reader and passionate writer from Colorado. She studied creative writing and journalism at the University of Denver and graduated in 2021. She has worked with the Denver Quarterly literary journal, written for the DU Clarion, and currently works with Spring Cedars Publishing.