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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Supporting Role of Subplots

Please welcome guest blogger Theresa Meyers

You know how the Oscars have a category for best supporting actor and actress? Really, the book community should have one of those too. Subplots are probably one of the most undervalued, under-appreciated and hardest working parts of a fiction story.

I know, I know, characters matter. Plotting matters. Pacing matters. But the reality is subplots are tiny filaments of each of these. Subplots grow from characters, from your basic plot, from the pacing itself.

In a lot of ways I tend to think of an overall story like a big spider's web. You've got the business part, where your readers get hooked into the story and stuck there, unable to pull away. Those are the sticky cross threads in a web. You've got the characters and the story arc happening, which are kind of the circles that start in the middle and becoming bigger and bigger, all interlinked, but totally separate. But what holds it all together? Those threads that connect to all of it. The threads that weave in and out, starting at the center and pulling out to stick to the most odd angles and places to hold the whole thing up. I like to think of those threads as subplots.

Now just like there are hundreds of thousands of different kinds of spiders who all build their own unique web designs, there are an infinite number of ways to construct a story. But somehow they all work! So my method of story construction might not be just like yours. Sometimes if you watch a spider just starting out building a web it looks like the little sucker is hopping randomly from place to place. It isn't until you start to see the web more than half way complete that you can really see it's got any organization at all.

But keeping track of subplots does take organization. My favorite tools of choice include a massive plotting board with a multitude of different colored sticky notes, but then I'm a very visual person (if you haven't already noticed that). Some authors like to use collage boards full of images and words. Other authors need detailed character sketches or use spreadsheets. I pull subplot ideas from characters. I pull them from a running list I keep along side the main story. Sometimes I string them along from story to story, connecting characters and stories from one book to the next. Sure organization is important, but so is being willing to stretch yourself just a bit further than you thought you could.

If you're up for looking at your writing in a whole knew way, I hope you'll consider joining me for a two-week class here at the FF&P chapter on subplotting using a spider's approach. During What A Wicked Web We Weave, we're going to cover not only how to find and organize subplots, but how to strengthen them and weave them in so they support the whole story and virtually disappear rather than stand out. We might even get into how to arc them from one story to the next...depending on how adventuresome people are. Why not, I'm always up for a party.

In the meantime, Happy Mardi Gras! Go out there and grab yourselves some beads and King Cake while you can.

Always a lover of books and stories, Theresa was a writer, first for newspapers, then as a freelancer for national magazines.  She started her first novel in high school, eventually enrolling in a Writers Digest course and putting the book under the bed until she joined Romance Writers of America in 1993.  In 2005 she was selected as one of eleven finalists in the nation for the American Title II contest, which is the American Idol of books for her Scottish historical.  Her most recent book, a Nocturne Bite titled Salvation of the Damned was released by Harlequin/Silhouette in March 2009, with another Nocturne Bite out in Oct. 2010 and two more full length paranormal romances to follow from Silhouette’s Nocturne line in 2011. Find her online at Theresa Meyers.

What a Wicked Web We Weave - A Spider's Approach to Subplots in Storytelling runs from March 29, 2010 - April 11, 2010.

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