Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday on Getting a Life

I don't know about you, but there are very few topics I can focus completely on for very long. I will inevitably (and by inevitably I mean usually, and by usually I mean I spend most of my time trying to prevent this) feel my mind wandering to other topics or ideas or daydreams or musings or wonderings (you get the picture) sparked by completely random things, like I Wonder Why That Crack In The Wall Looks So Familiar or What Are The Various Ways That Ladybug Could Have Gotten Into My Room? or Do I Think My Sister Will Let Me Borrow The John Green Book She Just Bought If I Finish My Homework By 9:00 Tonight.

Ahem. Some of the more normal examples. (This is why standardized testing kills my soul.)

Anyway, it's not very realistic to expect someone to spend large quantities of time thinking about one topic and one topic only. The same applies to characters. This is why subplots are important to a story. Any story. Except maybe flash fiction. But in the general world of fictional stories, subplots are key. No matter how exciting and complicated a story about a ninja who fights ghosts may be, it will get boring fast if your main character only thinks about her ninja skills in the ghost-fighting context. I began to eat my sandwich, knowing the lean meat will provide protein necessary to build my ghost-fighting ninja muscles. After finishing, I backflipped out of my chair to hone my impromptu ninja ghost-fighting moves. As I landed, I evaluated how I would exterminate any ghosts that happened to be in my line of vision.

Yeah. This went from Oooooh, ninja ghost-fighter? So cool! To Oooooh...someone needs to get a life. And this is where subplots come in. They make the character more human, perhaps more flawed--flaws are good subplots--and also more interesting, especially if the plot is fantastical or sci-fi or involves a very uncommon situation. The character is a ninja ghost-fighter and she likes to bake? I like to bake too! I feel so much more sympathy for her plight now. And so on.

Most stories have subplots naturally worked in--friendships, love interests, a character flaw to overcome, et cetera. It would probably be a good idea to evaluate your plot for these subplots and flesh them out a bit. My favorite kinds of subplots are the ones that ultimately connect to the resolution. I read a story recently that had a great main plot, but the love story on the side was just that--on the side--and didn't connect to the coolness of the main plot and therefore felt pretty disappointing. Or, how about this idea--two main plots (and some subplots sprinkled in for flavor) that ultimately converge in one resolution and were really connected all along. My next story will be sure to have that setup. Maybe three.

To illustrate, I googled "subplot graph" and found this.

I so don't understand the math here, but it's quite pretty.