Plots and subplots

plot subplots May 11, 2022

 One of the principles I teach my Path of the Storyteller students is the virtue of structuring your story around a single, iconic protagonist on a single, well-defined “mission.”

You can think of the mission as an actively pursued and highly particular purpose. It’s a goal that’s sufficiently well-delineated that, once your readers know about it (which they will, by the end of the first act), there’s an end-of-second-act scene that they can anticipate so clearly, it's like we've made them a promise to get there. And get there we must. 

There’s a ton more to say about it, but for the moment, let's use that hero-on-a-mission principle as a simple working definition of plot. What's your hero doing for the whole book? That's the plot. 

But you know and I know that novels are not bare-bones affairs. Even highly focused, novella-length works (I’m thinking about A Christmas Carol here) have secondary questions woven in. The main plot may center on the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge’s immortal soul—but what about Tiny Tim? What's going to happen to him

That kind of secondary thread, a lesser but still significant dramatic question that may not even center directly on the protagonist, is what we call a subplot. Even with a clear mission for your hero in mind, your story is likely to have subplots.

So how do we think about subplots? What are they for, and how are they structured? How do we weave them into our main story without muddying the waters of our storytelling? 

That’s what this livestreamed talk is all about. Many thanks to those of you who emailed your thoughts and questions in advance! You really helped shape the discussion, and I'm truly grateful. 

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