The What and Why of Writing: Layer or Subplot

There are so many details that go into plotting our stories – one simple way to think of plotting is  everything that happens to our hero and heroine: The Inciting Incident(s). The Ds (Disappointments) or obstacles, that force them to face Ys in the Road and ask the question, “What do I do now?” over and over again. The Black Moment, which is a repeat of the Dark Moment of the past. And the long-awaited Happily-Ever-After, where our hero and heroine ride off into the sunset …

Sorry. I lapsed into a romantic cliché there, didn’t I?

It’s vital to plot a strong main story, but while you’re doing that, remember to deepen your story too. How? Weave in an intriguing Layer or Subplot


A story Layer and a Subplot are two different elements:

  • A Layer adds depth to the plot and enhances the character’s struggle – and eventually his/her Epiphany.
  • A Subplot is its own distinct story. It has an Inciting Incident, Obstacles, a Black Moment, and lessons learned (and hopefully a Happily Ever After).


A Layer deepens the theme of the story. Remember: theme is the overall idea of your story and can usually be summarized in one word such as courage or forgiveness or grace. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings one of the themes is power. Tolkien weaves in the layer of Saruman the wizard to show what happens when power is corrupted.

A Subplot can mirror the main plot, and even intersect with it, but it has its own main characters, its own arc, and if pulled out of the story, could stand alone as a mini-story.

In the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, the main story is about the ex-convict Jean Valjean. Hugo wove many subplots within Les Misérables: Fantine’s story, Cossette’s story, Eponine’s story – and interestingly, when he wrote Les Mis, Hugo divided the novel into volumes highlighting each character’s storyline.

The main thing to remember is that you are deepening your story as you weave in a Layer and/or a Subplot. If you add a Layer to your story, keep it simple, asking yourself which character might act as a Voice of Truth for your hero or heroine to teach them something new about the theme.

When you build a Subplot, allow it to be a testing ground for “what if.” What happens if a certain choice is made – or isn’t made? What lesson are your hero and heroine learning? Is there a smaller lesson, or a piece of that lesson, that you can highlight through the Subplot characters?

Consider your work-in-progress: Can you deepen the story by adding a Layer or Subplot? 

[Tweet “The What and Why of Writing: Layer or Subplot by @bethvogt”]

Creative or Eccentric by Angie Arndt


I have a writing friend who always reminds me that I’m not normal. I’m not insulted by it because it’s the truth. If you’ve been to any writing conferences, you’ve probably heard the phrase, too. In fact, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not normal either. But don’t worry, that’s a good thing.

There have been studies that show that writers and other creative people view the world a little differently. Yes, we can be odd. We eavesdrop at restaurants. We carry notepads (or notepad apps) with us wherever we go. We may even keep a pen by the bed in case we figure out how to resolve that scene that’s been driving us crazy.

But I think being creative is a good thing, so I did a little bit of light research and found these interesting tidbits.

Just look at synonyms for the word, creative:

  • innovative
  • original
  • inventive
  • ingenious
  • imaginative
  • artistic

Aren’t those great adjectives? You can call me anything from that list and I wouldn’t mind.

People are fascinated by creative people. The Internet is full of studies about us. Some say we’re geniuses. Some suggested that we shared certain characteristics, such as:

  • As children, we enjoy playing with dolls or action figures. As adults, writers often combine work and play.
  • Did you stare out the window as a child? Is daydreaming still part of your process?
  • Being solitary. The creative mind needs to be alone to refuel.

Sound familiar?

Then there were the studies that suggested the line between creative and eccentric was very thin. Just take a look at these and see where you stand on the creative – eccentric continuum:

  • Artist Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) needed background music to create.
  • Color is also important. Alexandre Dumas separated his work by color: blue for fiction, yellow for poetry, and pink for articles. Lewis Carroll and Virginia Woolf had a penchant for purple. Charles Dickens used blue ink, not for the color but because it dried faster. He didn’t like using a blotter. (Aren’t you glad we don’t have to mess with that?)
  • Many had pets. Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Chandler had cats; Collette had a dog, while Flannery O’Connor had a favorite chicken.
  • Many geniuses were early risers. Both Jack London and John Milton got up very early to write before their days began.
  • Finally, geniuses were insecure, too. Both Harper Lee and Stephen King threw away their first novels (To Kill a Mockingbird and Carrie, respectively). Thankfully, someone convinced both to retrieve the manuscripts!

Don’t you love learning about these eccentricities?

I do. They make me feel . . . normal.


Angie is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency. She’s working on a novel set in a small Southern town. She and her husband live in a big wood outside a small town in South Carolina. She would love for you to visit her, at

Why I Decided to Quit Social Media & You Should Too!

Yep you read that right.

The Queen of social media is telling you she’s QUITTING social media.

NOT permanently (thought you were going to get out of it, didn’t you!), but I’m suggesting you take a break periodically, and re-examine your plan.

I used to keep up with social every single day, whether I was home or traveling. But I’ve learned that I can’t sustain a reasonable social media schedule seven days a week, indefinitely. So I’ve given myself permission to have weekends off and to relax when I’m traveling.

I know it sounds scary, but the truth is—it hasn’t hurt my platform at all—as a matter of fact it has helped it. Here’s two reasons why:

  • My updates are fresher.
  • I have time to expose myself to new blogs and new people.

So how do you know if it’s time to back off on social media?

  • You’re spending more than thirty minutes a day on social media updates.
  • You find yourself investing more energy in your blog than in your writing.
  • You’re updating about the same five or six sites four to five times a week.
  • You cringe when you hear the words social media.
  • You don’t have time to discover new blogs/followers/friends.

Here’s what to do.

  1. STOP. Give yourself permission to quit social media completely for forty-eight hours. Don’t announce it on Facebook, Twitter or even your blog. Just STOP.
  1. Rediscover what you enjoy about social media. AFTER the forty-eight hours of rest, spend a day or two just browsing. Take time to really read a couple of blog posts, visit with friends on Facebook, or hang out on Twitter.
  1. Determine what you need to accomplish with social media. Then make a plan so you can accomplish it in no more than thirty minutes a day, no more than five days a week.
  1. Restart your social media. Do it by sharing what you’ve learned. You can update about quitting social media, new blogs you’ve discovered, even new connections you’ve made.

I recommend a minimum of four Facebook posts per working day and four Twitter updates. This is something anyone can accomplish during a quick thirty minute window.

Quick Tip: If you schedule your social media for the day in the morning, get a jump on the next morning by scheduling some of the next day’s updates in the late afternoon. A lot of blogs go live in the afternoon, so you’ll have a chance to queue up some fresh material before you stop work for the day

Now it’s your turn, what do you do when social media overwhelms you?

The What and Why of Writing: Bookends

If I asked you why you used bookends, what would you say?

Envision that long line of books and how those first six books are staying in place … but then the last few stragglers won’t line up. Bookends create order – helping a row of books stand up straight.

While we sometimes need a pair of bookends tucked around the outside of a collection of books, have you ever utilized bookends between the book covers of the story you’re writing?

What: Bookends are the “mirror elements” of a novel’s 1st and 3rd acts that causes a character to face the same issue, situation, or conflict and reveals the character’s growth.

Why: The main characters readers meet in chapter one of a novel are not the same (imaginary) people by the time readers reach “The End.”  If they are … well, you’ve wasted both your word count and your readers’ time. A novel should include a series of events (scenes) that the hero and heroine confront – and in the confronting, they change.

One way to show your characters’ change is to throw them back into a similar situation to one they faced at the beginning of the story – but show them handling it differently.

Examples: In the opening of Almost Like Being in Love, my new destination wedding novel, my heroine makes a rash decision based on her father’s actions — because she is searching for his approval and feels like, once again, she hasn’t gotten it. At the end of the book, she once again makes a decision about her future based on her father’s actions — but is she still caught up in the same seeking approval cycle? You’ll have to read the book to find out. 

What about the movie The Proposal? At the beginning, Sandra Bullock’s character, Margaret, and Ryan Reynolds’s character, Andrew, have a adversarial work relationship – and Margaret , who is Andrew’s boss, always wins. She even bullies him into pretending to be engaged to her so that she isn’t deported to Canada. At the end of the movie, they have a final showdown in the office. But guess who wins this time? That’s right: Andrew! Both he and Margaret have changed because they’ve fallen in love with each other.

Consider your work-in-progress (WIP): How can you work bookends into your story?

[Tweet “The What and Why of Writing: Bookends via @bethvogt #amwriting #MyBookTherapy”]