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”]