How many times have you started work on a great novel only to run out of steam 50 pages into your work?
The story stalls, the idea goes flat, the characters seem to stare back at you saying “What now, boss?”
In some cases it might be that you didn’t spend enough time planning how your characters are going to get from beginning to end. Sometimes you might find that you wandered off on a plot tangent and aren’t sure where to go next. Either way, that red-hot plot you were so excited about when you first started writing just fizzles out.
In other cases it might be that the idea wasn’t big enough to fill out a novel or maybe you simply don’t have enough conflict in your story so far and want to liven things up a bit.
Weaving a second plot through your main storyline not only helps you to uncover new facets of your characters but can help raise conflict levels and create tension. You also have the opportunity to create a new depth to your original story, building layers of complexity that can force your fictional world into three dimensions.
If you create a sub-plot that has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot you’ll even force your reader to keep turning pages just to see how they gel together. Of course your reader already knows they will end up tied together in a neat little bow by the end of the book – otherwise there would be no reason for the new plot thread – but the reader will want to know how they end up intertwined and so will keep reading to find out.
Your sub-plot doesn’t need to be a romantic thread braided through the original story, although this is one of the more common sub-plot tactics used in many novels.
You might decide to have your main secondary character working with your protagonist openly, but secretly harboring a desire to thwart the hero’s efforts at every turn because he has other things on his agenda. You might decide to introduce a completely new plot to your novel that has nothing to do with the first and weave these together.
No matter what you decide to add for your sub-plot or how separate they are, it’s important that something within the sub-plot contains a vital element that is necessary to complete the main plot.
Sub-plots are used very effectively in many fantasy epics. The characters are all focused on a primary goal or quest, but each character has different things going on that either impede or interfere with the main plot.
Many horror novels have a light romantic sub-plot running through them to help relieve the pent-up tension created during intense horror scenes.
So how do you weave a sub-plot thread through your existing novel plot?
The easiest method of interweaving a new sub-plot through an existing plot is to create alternate chapters showing the viewpoint of another character. It’s through this character’s eyes that the new parts of the thread are shown to the reader.
When you first introduce your sub-plot it will seem to run parallel to your main storyline, but throughout your novel it should cross and sometimes even overtake your main plot until they meet at the end during the final scenes.
Even though you know where they’ll end up, your reader shouldn’t see it coming until the point where they finally intersect and it’s revealed why the sub-plot was the secret ingredient needed in order to finish the main plot all along.
Take a closer look at your current novel and see if you can find a sub-plot to throw at a secondary character that will help confuse and hinder your hero until the final scenes.
You’ll be surprised at the new life you can breathe into a stalled novel.