The Essence of a Story: Plots (and Subplots)

Today’s post is about editing plot and subplots (or side plots).  Kind of obvious from the title, huh?  <LOL>

A plot is the main story: it’s what your book is about.  It doesn’t normally stand alone; subplots may weave through it like the crossed threads of cloth.  Subplots can be synchronic or divergent—maybe a subplot ties in with the main story, maybe it doesn’t.

Here’s a possible plot-subplot breakdown for The Triple Threat Investigation Agency mystery series:

⇒   plot:  the major [murder] case the TTIA trio solves (which takes readers from beginning to end)  ♦  subplot:  JJ’s relationship with her “sometimes boyfriend”  ♦  subplot:  a minor case that’s quickly cracked (while the major one is being solved)  ♦  subplot:  Linda’s new relationship  ♦  subplot:  Rey’s acting adventures.

Let’s do another, random one:

⇒   plot:  seven people have to survive after being marooned on a deserted island (no, one of them is not named Gilligan) ♦  subplot:  one person requires daily medication, but has none on hand  ♦  subplot:  a couple is having an affair, and a spouse is part of the marooned group  ♦  subplot:  another person is on the FBI’s Top Ten Wanted List  ♦  subplot:  an active volcano is rumbling.

You determine how many you want subplots to include.  Up until now, I haven’t felt a need to provide a multitude of them in any of the ebooks as they’ve never seemed overly crucial.  As JJ often says, however: never say never.  It’s possible that at some time I may want to include related adventures to disclose more of the trio’s personal lives, goals and ambitions.

I’m guessing (hoping) you’ve started writing your magnum opus with a plot outline in place or, at the very least, a sketch (winging it may work for posts and emails/texts, and possibly short stories, but I’m not sure it’s that effective for books).  If you have subplots in mind, note them.  If not, allow them to develop as your characters do; allow these folks to drive “mini escapades”.

In terms of that plot outline, important elements include (but are by no means limited to):

⇒  story start (where and when, and the action that sets everything in motion)   ⇒   story end (where and when, and how everything culminates)   ⇒   reason(s) and purpose(s) for your main characters to endure/undertake all that they do   ⇒   challenge (the drive behind your main character)—also known as conflict   ⇒   trials and tests, and incidents (that draw your readers in)—also known as hooks   ⇒   goals and motivations, emotions and reactions   ⇒   settings/locations   ⇒   functions of secondary characters   ⇒   logic and believability of characters, events and actions (pretty much everything).

Fix areas that don’t mesh.  If something is weak, strengthen it.  Story structure has to be sound, plausible.  Action, description and dialog should flow like champagne at New Year’s Eve.

The storyline has to keep readers interested, so yank them in from the get-go!  Motivate them to keep reading by impelling your characters to take action and respond (to situations and people).  Constantly challenge and push them.  Ultimately, your plot should serve like a chariot that transports your readers—and characters—into different settings and situations.  Some might even prove prickly or unpleasant.

Refer to that outline now and again to ensure you’re on track.  Keep notes re new plot/subplot ideas that have sprung to mind.  Once the first draft is completed, determine if you’ve followed the course . . . and if you haven’t, maybe that’s not a bad thing (maybe your characters navigated you along a different route).  You decide.

We can go into all the components that a great book make, but let’s stick to plots (storylines, scenarios) for today.  Take into account the following:

♦   Is your plot logical?  Has it progressed as planned?  Does something need to be added or removed?  Have you tied up loose ends?  Is there enough tension/excitement throughout?  Are those plot twists plausible? WPplottwist

♦   Does each scene—a plot piece, as it were—serve a [viable] purpose?  Does each one steer that story forward?  Are there any that prove confusing or dull/uneventful?

♦   Does every conflict have a resolution by the time we reach “The End”?  Do events and actions flow soundly?  Do characters react logically/convincingly to those events and actions?

♦   This may prove painful, but if you have a scene or subplot that does nothing to advance the plot, chop it!  In fact, remove everything that does nothing to progress the plot.

When you’re doing a final or next-to-final edit, evaluate the plot as a reader, not the writer—i.e. use a critical (objective) eye.