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Whether it is a desire to learn how to skillfully sail across the open seas or the need to teach Messapian to a dozen reluctant students, subplots add depth to the characters who populate your fictional world and layers to the novel.

A subplot can be about anything in the main character’s personal or professional life.

Using subplots while writing fiction makes your main character seem real. Most people have more than one thing going on in their life at a time, so should the people that live in your novel. For example: you can write a novel about a woman main character and a man in a ten-year marriage, their desire to have a child and the difficulties they encounter reaching that goal. Could that take up the eighty or so thousand words one need to put in a novel? Sure it could, but it would most likely be really drawn out and boring, a main character whose only interest in life is a child.

Now imagine a subplot added in where the husband has a child he has never told his wife about and the child is only six years old. Add to that another subplot in which the wife’s single cousin is extremely disappointed to find out that she is pregnant. While the reader is still interested in the outcome of the main story, there is something else to read about while we wait for her latest test results.

A subplot can be either parallel to or interwoven with the main plot.

Parallel subplots can be the simplest to write. Often it involves a character other than main character who somehow is involved in the main character’s life.

The cousin in the storyline above could be a wonderful example of this kind of subplot. The main character finds herself having to be supportive while her cousin decides whether or not to continue her pregnancy, while she shows the family the sonogram of the baby growing inside of her and as she opens presents at the baby shower thrown by the main character. Regardless of what decisions the cousin makes the subplot does not affect the main storyline, the desire of the main character and her husband to have a child.

In contrast, an interwoven subplot has a direct effect on the main storyline, how it ends is crucial. If instead of choosing to have her baby and raise it herself, the cousin decides that the best thing that can happen is for the main character and her husband to raise the child. The subplot is interwoven with the desire of the main character and her husband. Because of its direct bearing on the story, the interwoven subplot is much harder to write then the parallel one.

Subplots accomplish several things in a novel. It can show an outside force which influence the characters or an internal struggle causing them to act out of character. They can alter the pace of the story by slowing it down or speeding it up. A subplot can be used to inform the reader of backstory they will need to fully understand your character and they can provide an opportunity to foreshadow something that will inevitably come to a head.

No matter how many subplots your work has they each have to be a complete story on their own, with a beginning, middle and end.

It is important for the writer to remember that the subplot must be subordinate to the main plot and never let it take over the story.