How Subplots Become Significant (Midweek Novel Update #3)


Stories have always fascinated me. As a young reader, as any, I couldn’t appreciate much more than the beauty of chemistry between characters and a happy ending. But as I got older, my fascination turned into examination.

I remember reading a Meg Cabot book in my grandparents’ basement one summer, perplexed by how one small detail, mentioned in passing amidst much larger plot points, could turn out to be so important to the story by the end.

I wanted to know how she did it. I wanted to know the secret formula that allowed “famous authors” to wedge so much significant detail between two covers of a single book.

Of course, as a writer, I couldn’t crack this code just by dissecting others’ stories. I had to test out the strategy for myself. (This is something I didn’t care much for in college: English majors spent more time analyzing than writing, and I learn by doing.)

I don’t think anyone ever really “figures anything out” the way they expect to. There isn’t a moment I’ve stopped and thought, “Oh. So that’s how they do it.” That’s one downside to writing: you get better as you practice, but it’s hard to see the improvement for yourself, or evaluate all you’ve discovered since you began.

There is no secret formula to subplots, I’ve found. Writers’ brains are just really good at (1) figuring things out, then (2) working backwards from their discoveries, to create an aura of mystery so others can figure things out for themselves (in the correct order).

Writing is science as much as it is art; I can’t wait to post on this topic. I’m going on a lot of tangents today. I do have a point to make. Bear with me.

Like anything in crafting a story, things rarely happen the way you plan. I had a subplot going for awhile, adding to it in small pieces here and there, and liked it but didn’t know how to tie it into the rest of the storyline or whether I was even going to be able to keep it in the final first draft.

It involved drawing up a fictional sport, which I’m still nervous about because I don’t want to Quidditch it too much, and it added an element of excitement and intensity the story had been lacking up until that point. But the premise was too simple: five “unlikely friends” end up on a sports team and learn the importance of teamwork. Yawn, snore. As much as I loved it, I just wasn’t sure it could stay.

Then that moment happened. You know the one. You’re sitting there, typing away, and all of a sudden, it’s like you can see the future. You know exactly what needs to happen for everything to make sense in the end.

Basically a specific set of characters ends up working with a student coach to learn how to play this new, barely accredited, extremely dangerous sport (where you either play the game well, severely injure yourself for trying, or, in extreme cases, die). Each training session involves refining a specific skill set, which, trust me, becomes important to know later on in the book. Unique? No. Fun to write? Absolutely.

These scenes have become my favorite parts to write as I’ve been working on the latest draft of my novel (still without an official title, sorry to keep you in suspense). I get to play with dialogue and tamper with a little humor, which I’m not very good at unless another character is the one trying to be funny (uh-huh, right, sure). Most importantly, I get to exercise my “action sequence” writing skills, which I’m absolutely terrible at, but I’m never going to get any better if I don’t try, right?

Learning to play this new sport started out as a subplot for the narrator and other characters she goes to school with. Over time, gradually, I’ve been able to shape these smaller pieces of the story into vital elements that the story couldn’t exist without.

I love the feeling you get when you’re finally starting to solve your own mysteries.

I’m so excited to keep working. I’m still less than 30,000 words in, total, but I’m in no rush. It’s likely I’ll carry the work through this summer’s Camp NaNoWriMo, which I’ve never participated in before (I did JulNo, until its spontaneous demise). But this project has been through so many Wrimos already, it won’t know the difference.

My goal is to finish a first draft, completely, this year. It’s halfway through 2015 and I have a long way to go. But as I piece together different ideas and see things come to form, I have a feeling it won’t be long before I have to force myself to stop writing long enough to, you know. Adult.

But until then, it’s back to drafting. It feels good to love what you do. It really does.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

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