Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Subplots and Primary Plots...or why "and" really is better than "or"

Today I read a very interesting article (link provided below) on subplots, and also subtext, that gave me some great food for thought.  Not just the garden variety food for thought that is like the good intentioned plan for the produce I throw into the shopping cart, like this...

but food for thought I wanted to munch on right away...more like this.

Yum!  I do mean both of them, but you know which one gets reached for first as soon as you get home!

What does this have to do with subplots and subtext? Maybe not a lot, but when I read about how main events and secondary events sometime switch places as the big draw in a story, it struck my fancy how it's a lot like how we accommodate our craving for certain foods.  It's kind of a "now or later?" philosophy or maybe more like the current commercial (it's a car commercial, right?) that points out various ways "and" is better than "or."  I'll agree with that...we want "now AND later."

It's why we watch movies and television shows that provide suspense AND romance or comedy AND romance, or...well, you get the idea.  But does that mean one OR the other is relegated to being a subplot?  How does the subtext, which is even more subtle and yet deeply intrinsic to the story than the subplot, connect the two? 

As an example provided in the article I read, the primary plot of Titanic could be arguably either the sinking ship or the love story.  Consequently, depending on the opinion of the viewer or possibly their preference, the leftover choice could be the subplot.  But the point I found interesting was that the subtext saturated both plot lines.  That subtext was the social class distinctions that both made the love story forbidden and determined the fate of nearly everyone on the sinking ship.  It's an element that couldn't be pulled out of the story...even if it were fictional.

But I do think the subplot can "go away," or be put on the back burner, so to speak, for a while at least.   The subplot can move quite comfortably between now or later. This is why we can watch crime/romantic dramas (or whichever you want to put before or after the "slash") like Castle or Bones or, as a personal favorite, Fringe.  I recently watched four seasons on Netflix and at times it drove me nuts when the relationship got put "on hold" for the plot-of-the-day.  The subtext, however, did not go away, and that is what kept me involved. 

Of course, I often think about how film and television examples get us only so far when talking about writing a romance.  We understand that the reader trusts the choice has been made to focus on the relationship.  And yet, we still add a lot of "stuff."  We can do that, because the subtext saturates whatever subplot we add.  It keeps the reader from skipping pages.  It keeps all kinds of stuff interesting that we might not have chosen to read if it were a this OR that kind of story.  The subtext is why "and is better than or."

Without any mention of vegetables or candy read more about how primary plots, subplots and subtext work together...

How to Improve Your Writing: Subplots and Subtext - guest blog at Writer's Digest by Larry Brooks, author of STORY PHYSICS: HARNESSING THE UNDERLYING FORCES OF STORYTELLING

Print Resource Link (I haven't yet, but I'm going to check this out!):


  1. Oooh, I like this a lot. It sounds like subtext is a great linking force here, and I'm not sure I really thought of it that way. It provides a lot of opportunities for the characters to interact. Hmmm. You've given me a lot of food for thought as I work on my WIP today. I'll take it in chocolate form--my characters prefer that. :)

    1. Donna, yes, I hadn't thought of it quite this way either, and I've been thinking about it now on my WIP...or I HAD been thinking along those lines and it's one those writing craft things that make better sense hearing from someone else at the time I read it. Like I love how you pull out "linking force" for defining subtext. Exactly! What you said. LOL


My Blog List