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    Home Articles

    Does Your Plot Need a Subplot?

    The beginning of every bestselling novel starts with "What if?" What if a jagged, black, hairline crack suddenly appeared in a clear blue sky?

    If you're a writer, your mind is already racing. You've turned every telescope in the world that direction, you've sent fighter jets up and you've thought of at least three main characters -- a scientist to figure out what's happening, his hysterical wife and perhaps the egotistical head of the research department who just won't listen.

    That, my friends, is how a plot becomes a novel and it is by far the most exciting part of writing fiction. But will we need a subplot?

    Just for fun, let's develop the plot a little more. While your mind is racing, jot down possible scenes. Keep it simple, you'll have plenty of time to fill in the details later.

    Scene 1. The little boy who sees it first. He glances up, his mouth drops and he stares, drawing the attention of the scientist and his wife. Put them somewhere. Are they in a park flying kites, on a busy street in their car or just walking out of a movie theater?

    Scene 2. NORAD Command Center orders fighter jets to check it out.

    Scene 3. A NATO Conference is interrupted with several people rushing in to whisper in the ears of various world leaders.

    Just let your mind fly. Keep jotting things down until you can't think of anything more. If you've written each scene on a different sheet of paper, it's easy to go back and put them in the order you want them to occur.

    Don't worry about the ending, most of the writers I know don't figure out the ending until much later. For the sake of this article, we'll say we've thought of an ending. Now concentrate on your three main characters. You have the scientist who has to find the answer while dealing with his hysterical wife and his egotistical boss. You have the process he goes through to find the answer, and it should be enough for several hundred pages and a multitude of scenes. But suppose it's not enough or suppose the main plot gets bogged down in boring scientific data.

    A great writer will also develop a subplot - a fun story line with a new set of characters. Maybe there's a bag lady who sees the "end of the world" in an altogether different light. Maybe she's inherited a lot of money and a junior lawyer, in order to keep his job with a prestigious firm, is forced to encounter the street life to find her.

    You now have a story within a story. If your reader momentarily loses interest in the main plot, he'll keep reading to find out if the lawyer finds the bag lady. The subplot can also help slow down a main plot that's moving too fast. It can give both the writer and the reader time to breath.

    Even a romance novel can be given that extra boost with a subplot. So if you're a new writer, give the idea some careful thought. It might just be the edge your novel needs to put it ahead of all the rest.


    Copyright © 2002 Marti Talbott

    ABOUT MARTI: Marti Talbott is the author of A Shattered City - Earthquake in Seattle.


    EXCUSES, EXCUSES
    by Angela Giles Klocke

    We've all done it. We have all made as many excuses as there are stars in the skies to get out of writing. We want to be a writer, yes, but we don't want to do the work sometimes. Too bad wanting doesn't pay the bills. To be a writer you must, well, write.

    The first step can be the hardest. And that first step is to not make an excuse - to actually sitdown and write. No finally deciding to fold the laundry. No raking the yard. None of that. Put those simple tasks aside now and sit yourself down at your desk. Excuses are the things that ruined one too many writing careers. What careers, you ask? Well, I can't name any because they aren't there to name. Get it?

    Being a parent offers us so many more excuses than the non-parent. We have little mouths to feed, errands to run, kids to taxi, food to clean off the carpet, etc, etc . . . It becomes so much easier for us to make that extra excuse to not sit down and write that story we wanted to write or work on our novel. We have lunches that have to be made first. Baths come next. Bed-time story... and so on and so on. Finally, well, we are just too tired.

    Nonsense! Okay - we get tired and we must sleep. That's a given. But there are all those timeswe aren't sleeping that we could have been writing. We watched T.V. instead. "Could have wrote one thousand words, but Ally McBeal looked so much better." "E.R. was on so there was just no way to break away." "The kids wanted to stay up and watch RugRats and I just can't resist watching, too." Sound a little familiar? An excuse.

    There are legitimate times that you really can't write, but there are many more times you could have. You didn't have to watch three movies back to back. You didn't have to take a two-hour bath. You didn't have to read all day. I know - now it sounds as if I am saying you should stop doing everything you like to do. Wrong. Just cut back. Writing is important to you or you wouldn't be here reading this. I am merely suggesting you cut some self-indulgences in half, freeing up some of that time you may claim you don't have for writing. Life doesn't revolve around you having to write all the time, but it should revolve around it some.

    It is just too easy to come up with reasons for not having time to write. Your assignment - Find all the excuses TO write. What makes you love to write? Why is it so important to you? What are your writing goals? How can you better reach them? Write these questions with your own individual answers and then every time you feel yourself making an excuse, pull your assignment out and read it. Next thing you know, you'll be writing more often than making excuses. Better yet, keep the assignment posted somewhere and every time you find yourself giving into excuses, make a list to keep with it. No more excuses!

    Copyright © Marti Talbott

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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