As many writers know, the development of an interesting plot can be integral to the cultural and commercial success of a written work. This is the case for many reasons, including the fact that many people are drawn to the world of reading because of stories that creatively communicate the rise and fall of action. Yet while the plot of a story is important for this reason, writers should also be aware that the subplot can play a very primary role in the success or failure of a work. Indeed, the subplot contributes to the development of a story and greatly affects the reader’s overall response to it. For this reason, writers should make sure that they spend time developing thought-provoking subplots.
In my own writing life, I have tried to ensure that the primary plot of my work always includes an interesting subplot so the reader has more than one concept to reflect upon. In my short story Maybe Marrying Margaret, for example, the primary plot is whether or not my protagonist will marry the love of his life. In addition to narrating his thoughts and emotions about the concept of wedding his lover, however, I devoted much textual time to the couple’s discussion of a painting. Indeed, the novel opens with a reference to it:
“There’s this painting she keeps staring at.
She imbibes it, absorbs everything it has to offer. A lilting shade of lavender, it features fourteen flawless flowers arranged with a meandering dissonance that flies in the face of the frame’s four square corners. They make its math seem maddening, symmetry superfluous.”
Although the complexity surrounding the painting in the excerpt above is not the primary plot of the work, it can function as the source of interest for readers who aren’t particularly moved by romantic narratives. Moreover, this subplot-which involves the couple’s mutually exclusive interpretations of the painting’s significance-gives the story a depth and variety it would not have if the discourse were limited to the protagonist’s anxieties about marrying his lover.
The subplot I constructed with Maybe Marrying Margaret is only one of numerous examples I could list. In Toni Morrison’s important novel The Bluest Eye, for example, the primary plot is a young black girl’s obsession with having blue eyes and the insanity this desire represents. While this plot is intriguing and culturally meaningful, one of the story’s subplots-the disintegrating relationship between the young girl’s parents-is equally interesting. Moreover, it could likely keep the attention of readers who are drawn towards stories about the complexities of married life.
As mentioned earlier, plot development can be integral to the success of a written work. Moreover, writers should pay attention to both the primary plot and the subplots that give a short story or novel shape and substance. Good luck!
Jocelyn Crawley holds B.A. degrees in English and Religious Studies. Her work has appeared in Jerry Jazz Musician, Nailpolish Stories, Visceral Uterus, Dead Beats, Four and Twenty, and Haggard and Halloo. Other stories are forthcoming in Faces of Feminism, The Idiom, Thrice Fiction and Calliope.
Related Articles From Jocelyn:
Writing Tips: Conflating Sensorial Elements
Writing Tips: A Brief Note on Intentional Superfluity
Writing Tips: Using Speed to Enhance Your Narrative