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Nov 10, 2012

Juggling Subplots: 3 Options

You may have figured out why I talked about the McGuffin, Mystery and Romance subplots. (Those aren't the only possibilities). One, they are indeed awesome subplots. Two, in my project October Knight, I have all three. 

My hero, Brandon Kickabutt, is trying to win the love of the Homecoming Queen, which is difficult since he’s a goblin and she’s a monster-hunter. He’s also trying to solve the mystery of who killed his father and what happened to his mother. Ultimately, however, the story is a fantasy, which means it’s a McGuffin tale at heart. His main quest, though he doesn’t know it at the beginning of the book, is to master the power of the Gate Key and become the October Knight.

How do you communicate which plot is the main one and which are the subplots? Here are options:

1. Order of introduction
2. Emphasis
3. Tone

1. Order of Introduction


The simplest method to show the importance of a plot plotline is the order of introduction.

Chapter One: The detective arrives to examine the murder scene.

Chapter Two: When she meets the main suspect, she's disturbed to find him incredibly sexy.

Chapter Three: She finds out that he's searching for a valuable gem known as the Watermelon Tourmaline, the largest tourmaline in the world that's green on either end and pink in the middle. Unfortunately, a lot of other unsavory dudes are looking for the Watermelon Tourmaline too.

That's a classic way to introduce main plot (Mystery), subplot (Romance) and another subplot (McGuffin). This would be a Mystery or Thriller with a romantic subplot.

2. Emphasis


However, order doesn't have to dictate importance. Emphasis is even more critical. You could have exactly the same order, in  Romance with a Suspense subplot. (Yes, there is a difference between a Mystery with a romance subplot and a Romance with a Mystery subplot.) For instance, suppose the heroine is at a lunch with her BFF. The BFF is telling her she needs to get over her ex and start dating again, and the heroine says she has no time. A call comes in; a body has been found. "See?" she tells her best friend. "The only men I meet are murder suspects."

This set up could be just a few lines, and then the heroine is off to the investigation; but the key is that the author has clued in the reader that a primary concern of the novel will be with the heroine opening herself up to love again after a failed relationship. When she meets a hot guy who is a murder suspect, the reader will chortle.

A Romance will likely spend a lot more story space remarking on the sexual attractiveness, and feelings, of the murder suspect/romance than a Mystery. In a Mystery, a few lines could suffice; a Romance will dwell much longer on his dark, arrogant chiseled face, piercing blue eyes and incredible abs.

3. Tone

Another difference is tone. This is not just about emphasis but about the Voice of the novel itself. It's the hardest of the three options to pin down, but incredibly important.


In my present project, I think I have a grip on Order and Emphasis, but I'm struggling with Tone. I want to keep this book on the young side of Young Adult, and not make it too dark. I want it to be breezy and humorous.

Yet, in my Seed Scenes, I keep finding myself dragging in darker themes and situations. Not outside the realm of Young Adult, which these days can be pretty dark, but in a different direction than I thought I wanted to go.

I have to choose. Should I go with the impulse, or should I stick to my original vision? I might need to try the same scene in two or three different Voices.





1 comment:

Ink in the Book said...

I always say go with impulse. It's generally your muse who sends out the impulses, right?