Plots: Why are Sub-Plots Necessary? - article

Simply put, sub-plots make books more interesting. Although creating sub-plots adds a challenge to the writing process, they are an indispensable ingredient in great storytelling. Sometimes they are not interwoven into the main story, but most of the time they are. When they’re interwoven, they have the greatest impact. Envision your main plot as a hand-woven rug. By clever and effective utilization of sub-plots, you can turn it into a spectacular, rich tapestry.

Let’s look at an example from a great novel, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. One of the sub-plots involves the abusive marriage of Don Corleone’s daughter, Connie. After being beaten by her husband Carlo, a crying Connie calls home. Sonny Corleone, the eldest son of the Don and a notorious hothead, tracks Carlo down and beats the heck out of him on the street in broad daylight. As far as the reader is concerned, this is just a sidelight, and has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot of the book. Later, Sonny is murdered by a rival mob family as he is on the way to rescue Connie from another beating. Subsequently, we learn that Carlo had used the beating to set Sonny up, and that he is a spy for a rival family. This is a great example of a sub-plot blending perfectly into the main plot. 

The question of whether or not a novel could actually be written without a sub-plot or sub-plots being included is one you should explore. Can you think of one novel you’ve read that didn’t have at least one sub-plot? Doubtful. They give the main story texture and add a dose of reality because none of us only deals with one thing in life at one time. We all have multiple things calling our attention and impacting our life and they must be dealt with… even if we are in the middle of committing or solving a murder. 

Here’s an interesting exercise: Pick out one of your favorite novels and re-read it. With a pen and paper in hand, identify the sub-plots and write a sentence or two on how they add value to the book. This exercise will help you as you craft your own novel’s outline. You’ll understand how sub-plots can make your story more interesting and add to character development. You will find that when you are up to the challenge of bringing sub-plots into your main plot, you will become a better writer.

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