Latest News

Subplots--Where To Find Them and How To Use Them

First things first. What is a subplot? The fancy definition:  a plot subordinate to the main plot of a literary work. Amanda's definition: The other stuff going on, kind of in the background, while our protag attempts to reach a goal.

Now we know what they are. But how do we go about finding them?

Have your main plot fleshed out some.

Not entirely, because you need your subplots to do a super in depth outline.You basically want to summarize the plot in one sentence. For example purposes, we'll use this:

Fifteen-year-old Halli must gain access to a spaceship in order to save planet Earth from the evil alien Xerg.

Best seller, no? ;) 

Know your characters.
A great way to find subplots is to look at your main character's strengths and weaknesses. Their personality quirks, histories, etc. 

Halli: stubborn, quick-witted, bad at algebra, slightly nearsighted, her sister mysteriously disappeared five years ago and the case remains open.

*Halli is stubborn. There's no way she'd let the disappearance of her sister go unforgotten. Hmm . . .Halli's never-ending search for her sister could make for a great subplot.

*Another common subplot in YA is romance. What kind of subplot could that create in your story? Is the love interest unobtainable? Is there a lot of snarky tension between the future couple?  

We're going to go with:
*Halli's search for her sister
*Romance with love interest
and don't forget our main plot:
*defeating Xerg

How To Use Subplots
This is where it gets tricky (but fun). I look at subplotting like braiding. We have a couple different threads, it's just a matter of introducing them into the story at the right time and weaving them together.

In chapter one, while Halli's posting fliers about her missing sister (subplot one) she runs into snarky, but of course incredibly gorgeous, future love interest leaning against the telephone pole she wants to tape a flier to (subplot two)

So how do you bring it all together? 

Ask yourself what if. What if our love interest is the son of an astronaut, which is how Halli gains access to the spaceship. What if the clues left behind make Halli think Xerg had something to do with her sister's disappearance? See what catalysts your main plot needs and what your subplots can do to get you there. After that, it's only a matter of switching strands throughout.

How do you come up with subplots?
Amanda Hannah

Amanda grew up on a big farm in a small town with one stoplight, one school, and a handful of imaginary friends.She would’ve gone to college forever, but eight years and five majors tested her advisor’s patience. So she moved to Germany to explore creepy castles before landing in Spain where she’s perfecting her Flamenco.

Posts by Amanda

  • Blogger Comments
  • Facebook Comments


  1. Thanks for this great advice! I love this thread! My problem is having too many subplots at times. This comes from having too many characters whose stories I'm trying to work through. I'm trying to discipline myself to avoid cramming in the story arcs of too many characters and use only the one (or two) that fit the main plot.

  2. I tend to go from one extreme to the other, either too many or none at all. I'm learning to self-edit :)

  3. XERG <3

    LinWash, I've had the same problem - too many subplots, too much going on. I think that's when you have to take Amanda's advice in reverse - unbraid, find the main plot again, then choose the subplots that are most essential to the story.

    Great post, Lady A!

  4. Excellent post, Amanda! Great advice :)

  5. Fun post! My subplots usually develop from aspects of the main story I want to enhance as larger conflict (like giving the internal conflict it's own subplot to show that struggle) or from simple throwaway lines that strike me as being very intriguing.

    Sometimes a character will mention something in passing and that connects several aspects of the story. It just jumps out as something that I can work with and I'll spend a few minutes thinking about where it might go.

  6. I realised my story needed a subplot and wove in some romance. But, of course, nothing runs smoothly thanks to my lead's incredibly stubborn nature.

  7. I think I need more subplot. Is there a store or a sale somewhere?

  8. Hey thought I'd let everyone know we at Boxing With Pencils are having a weekly 100 words or less flash fiction contest with a cash prize of 5 dollars.

    So come on and check it out all you poor ass writers you know you need the money!


Comments are moderated on posts two weeks old or more -- please send us a tweet if yours needs approval!

Item Reviewed: Subplots--Where To Find Them and How To Use Them Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Amanda Hannah