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Subplots and Depth: Crafting Rich Layers that Complement Your Main Storyline

Subplots are secondary storylines that run parallel to your main plot, providing depth and complexity to your novel. They can add richness, reveal character facets, and create a more immersive world. Here’s how to expertly weave subplots that not only enhance the main storyline but also contribute to the development of secondary characters:

1. Align with the Main Plot:
Ensure that your subplots are relevant to the main plot. They should mirror, contrast with, or complicate the main storyline, adding depth and resonance to the overarching narrative. Subplots should enhance the themes and conflicts of the primary story, creating a cohesive narrative tapestry.

Example: In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the subplot of Hermione's struggle to fit in as a Muggle-born mirrors Harry’s own journey of finding his place in the wizarding world, enriching the main plot's themes of belonging and identity.

2. Character Development:
Use subplots as a tool to develop secondary characters, giving them their own arcs and challenges. This can help make these characters feel as real and compelling as your protagonist. A well-crafted subplot allows secondary characters to grow and change, adding layers to their personalities and backstories.

Example: In The Great Gatsby, the subplot of Tom and Myrtle's affair adds depth to Tom's character and highlights themes of infidelity and moral decay, paralleling the main plot's exploration of Gatsby and Daisy's relationship.

3. Vary the Stakes:
While the stakes in a subplot might not be as high as in the main plot, they should still be significant and personal to the characters involved, providing additional tension and reader investment. The stakes should matter deeply to the characters, creating a sense of urgency and importance.

Example: In Pride and Prejudice, the subplot of Lydia Bennet's elopement with Wickham creates personal stakes for the Bennet family and underscores the themes of reputation and marriage, complementing Elizabeth's and Darcy's main story.

4. Interweave with Care:
Skillfully intertwine your subplots with the main plot, ensuring they intersect at key moments. This can be through shared events, themes, or character relationships. Seamless integration ensures that subplots feel essential to the story rather than isolated threads.

Example: In The Lord of the Rings, the subplot of Aragorn's journey to reclaim his throne intersects with Frodo's quest to destroy the Ring, reinforcing the themes of leadership, duty, and sacrifice.

5. Balance the Weight:
Be mindful of the proportion of your story devoted to subplots. They should complement, not overshadow, the primary storyline. Maintaining balance ensures that the main plot remains the focus while subplots enrich the narrative without becoming distracting.

Example: In To Kill a Mockingbird, the subplot of Boo Radley's mysterious presence complements the main plot of Scout and Jem's experiences with racism and injustice without overwhelming the central narrative.

6. Resolve Appropriately:
While some subplots may resolve before the main plot concludes, ensure that each subplot reaches a satisfying conclusion. Avoid leaving loose ends unless intentional for sequels or thematic effect. Resolutions should feel natural and contribute to the overall story’s sense of closure.

Example: In Jane Eyre, the subplot of Jane's relationship with St. John Rivers is resolved before the main plot's conclusion, providing closure to that aspect of her life and allowing her to fully commit to her future with Rochester.

7. Revise for Cohesion and Pace:
In revisions, scrutinize your subplots for clarity, necessity, and how they impact the pacing of the whole novel. Remove or refine those that don’t serve the story effectively. Ensure that each subplot enhances the main plot and contributes to a well-paced, engaging narrative.

Example: During revisions of The Hunger Games, ensure that subplots like Peeta's and Katniss's complex relationship and Gale's rebellion tie smoothly into the main plot of the Games and Katniss's survival strategy.

Practical Tips for Weaving Subplots

  1. Create a Subplot Outline: Develop a separate outline for each subplot to track its progression and how it intersects with the main plot.

  2. Use Subplots to Explore Themes: Subplots can delve into secondary themes or provide new perspectives on the main theme, adding depth to your story.

  3. Introduce Subplots Gradually: To maintain clarity and engagement, avoid overwhelming readers by introducing too many subplots at once. Gradually weave them into the narrative.

  4. Ensure Subplots Have a Purpose: Each subplot should serve a clear function, whether it's developing a character, advancing the plot, or highlighting a theme.


Crafting subplots is akin to weaving intricate patterns within a larger tapestry. When executed well, they enrich the overall picture, adding depth and texture without drawing attention away from the central design. Remember, subplots are there to support and enhance your main storyline, illuminating different aspects of your characters’ world and their journey through it. Thoughtfully integrating subplots creates a richer, more immersive narrative that keeps readers engaged and invested in every layer of your story.