Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Lesson 18: Subplots

Good Wednesday folks...Auh...Hump Day...It feels good to have the week half over. Yikes, I'm a half week older, too! Oh well, such is life.

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel. This is a fabulous book and I encourage each of you to buy it. What I'm presenting here is by no means a full lesson and there is a wealth of insight and additional info that will help you.

In case your just joining us...What I am attempting to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. We're done with Character Development, now we're moving on to Plot Development! Today's lesson is in Section TWO: Subplots.

Plot layers are the several narrative lines experiences by the protagonist, while subplots are the narrative lines experienced by other characters. What does a narrative line look like? It's problems that take more than one step to resolve, in other grows more complicated!

Now that we understand the lingo, which is better, layers or subplots? Today the word subplot is kinda' old-fashioned. Subplots are found throughout 20th century literature, and in contemporary novels.

Novels today benefit more from tightly weaving plot layers, than from the broad sprawl of subplots. but it is not to say that subplots don't have a place in a breakout novel!

Are there subplots that can be developed for your novel? Some writers are afraid to add subplots, for fear their story will run away with them. That fear is unfounded. Subplots may make a novel sprawl, but if carefully woven together with the main layers, the novel will have the rich tapestry feeling of real life!

Step 1: Who are your novel's most important secondary characters?

Step 2: what is the main problem, conflict, or goal faced by each of these characters?

Step 3: For each, what are the three main steps leading to the solution of that problem, the resolution of that conflict, or the attainment of that goal. Put another way, what are three actions, events, or developments...of the secondary characters...that you could not possibly leave out.

Step 4: Outline each secondary character's story. while your protagonist is at work on the main problem, what is each character doing to slove his own problem?

Note: What if your novel is not really about your hero, but about another character? That is the point of this exercise: To make secondary characters active, to give them lives and stories of their own. These are true subplots!

Follow-up: Weave your plot layers together with your subplots using the method in the building Plot exercis steps from yesterday. Add the nodes of conjuncture that you discover to your novel.

Conclusion: Can subplots and secondary characters steal the show? Yep! If they do it effectively enough, you may have the wrong protagonist. But most subplots are underdeveloped or nonexistent. This exercise can help give subplots a vital pulse.

And the last of the interesting Facts!

1. There is a seven-letter word in the English language that contains ten words without rearranging any of its letters, "therein": the,there, he, in, rein, her, here, ere, therein, herein.

2. Dueling is legal in Paraguay as long as both parties are registered blood donors.

3. A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds.

4. It's impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.

5. Cranberries are sorted for ripeness by bouncing them; a fully ripened cranberry can be dribbled like a basketball.

6. The letters KGB stand for Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti

7. 'Stewardesses' is the longest English word that is typed with only the left hand.

8. The combination "ough" can be pronounced in nine different ways; the following sentence contains them all: "A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed."

9. The only 15 letter word that can be spelled without repeating a letter is uncopyrightable.

10. Facetious and abstemious contain all the vowels in the correct order, as does arsenious, meaning "containing arsenic."

11. Emus and kangaroos cannot walk backwards, and are on the Australian seal for that reason.

12. Cats have over one hundred vocal sounds, while dogs only have about ten.

13. The word "Checkmate" in chess comes from the Persian phrase "Shah Mat," which means "the king is dead."

14. The reason firehouses have circular stairways is from the days of yore when the engines were pulled by horses. The horses were stabled on the ground floor and figured out how to walk up straight staircases.


  1. David Meigs said...
    All my secondary characters have their own stories to be told. I just can’t imagine doing it another way. But it’s also probably why my stuff is too long. Hmm?

    Great series Bonnie!
    Live, Love, Laugh said...
    is all of this true? That got me about the blood donors, how weird is that?
    Bernita said...
    Ah, that helps sort out layers and sub-plots.
    Anyone who thinks dogs have only about 10 vocal sounds has not heard my dog howl.
    Rulan said...
    Ooh, ooh, ooh..." I hadn't even read halfway through this lesson when a subplot ran at me and knocked me over. lol he he Now I've got to go and write it down.

    Great series.

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