Author Tip Tuesday – Tip #14 Plots and Subplots

September 27, 2016

What is plot?

For some reason plot is not easily defined, and yet if plot is missing in a book or movie we know it. How? We find ourselves shaking our heads saying, “I don't get it,” and “What is this story about?”

Plot is closely related to structure, as the major structure plot points should reflect the plot.

There must be a problem or a quest. There must be obstacles that get in the way of solving the problem or continuing the quest. There must be a solution to the problem or a completion of the quest.

Plot is closely tied to the story question we brought up before. Now’s the time to focus, not just on the main story question one, but lots of story questions.

The logline we worked on early helps us to establish our plot problem.

The plot problem in GINGERBREAD MAN is the situation where Marlow finds himself talking to a girl online who has supposedly been killed. The story questions are Is this the same girl, or different? Is this second girl’s life in danger? What can Marlow do to save her?

The plot problem in PLAYING WITH MATCHES is when young Emil and his friends find a shortwave radio and listen to news reports on the forbidden BBC. Will they do anything to spread the word about what they heard? What if they get caught? How can mere boys stop the war from happening?

HARRY POTTER is an example of a quest. He has to find a way to stop Voldemort from succeeding with his evil plans, a quest that continues through all seven books. So will he succeed? And what about his love life? Will Ginny really end up with Ron?

Most novel length books need more than just the plot to propel the story along. The plot is assisted with subplots. While the story can be told without subplots, subplots alone are not the story.

In PLAYING WITH MATCHES one subplot involves Emil’s growing affection and love affair with his friend’s sister. Another is the relationship between Emil and his younger brother Helmut, growing from mistrust to trust.

In The HUNGER GAMES, the subplots are Katniss's relationship with Gale, and her growing and increasingly complicated relationship with Peeta.

Some people like to look at sub-plotting as braiding.


Imagine the center strand as the main plot line and the outside strands are subplots. As you structure your story, the subplots twist around the main plot creating a braid—a well-developed novel.

You can have more than two subplots, of course, though not all books require it. Use whatever your story needs to build the plot, just remember that you have to tie up all the loose ends by the end of your story, including all subplots.

One important thing to remember while plotting is to keep your main character active. Though sometimes things will happen to him, you want your protagonist to be actively engaged. For instance, even though Emil in PLAYING WITH MATCHES finds himself in wartime Germany (something that happened to him), his response to that is a series of things that he does.

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