How To Write A Great Subplot (Part II)

In the last blog post on how to write a great subplot, we discussed the definition of a subplot. Plus, we looked at some of the different type of subplots that have been used in fiction and fantasy. In this article, we shall examine some more instances of how to write a great subplot.

Unsure If New Friends Are Trustworthy

When it comes to how to write a great subplot, another interesting one is to place your main character in an unfamiliar situation or environment. This entails that he is out of his comfort zone and must adapt to his new surroundings.

A key to add a further facet to this is to make the central protagonist encounter people that he doesn’t know if he can trust.

Example – Pernicious: True Evil

Angelika Koch’s wonderful story shows us how to make incorporate a subplot when a main character cannot trust those she meets.

In Pernicious: True Evil, Angelika Kock’s brilliant debut YA Fantasy novel, our heroine, Astra, suddenly finds herself on a strange planet. The plot centres around her desire to return home; although, Astra has no idea how.

Then, she comes across a figure called Vojin, who claims to know the way back to Earth. Astra has no idea if she can trust him. After-all, why would he help her? Nevertheless, she has no choice but to trust him, regardless of the potential dangers that he may or may not be leading her into…

(By the way, I had the privilege of interviewing Angelika earlier this year. Check out the interview here and here, and her book here.)

Doing A Deal With The Devil

As we saw in one of my blog posts on subliminal messaging, doing a deal with the devil never ends well for the central protagonist. However, we should look at how getting into such a deal has been done by authors. This is because doing a deal with the devil makes for an intriguing subplot because it enables the main character to get what he wants; often, with sad or tragic consequences.

Example – The Little Mermaid

In The Little Mermaid, Ariel longs to explore the world above the shores and be with Eric. But her father, King Triton, refuses to let her do so. One night, after Triton reduces his daughter to tears, Ariel gets a visit from the evil eels, Flotsam & Jetsam. Without needing much persuasion, Ariel chooses to visit their mistress, Ursula the Sea-Witch.

Upon meeting our villain, Ariel enters into a Faustian pact with Ursula, so that she can become a human and meet Eric. The deal does not go well for Ariel (surprise surprise), and it helps make Ursula achieve her goal of becoming the most powerful sea-creature in the world.

Ariel meets and reluctantly enters into a deal with the devil aka Ursula the Sea-Witch.

A Story Within A Story

A story within a story is incredibly hard to put together, both in terms of plot and in terms of layering the subplot so that the subplot works within the narrative’s framework. That is why when it is done well, it is close to genius. (We will discuss how to write a story within a story in a future next blog piece.)

Example – Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford’s outstanding noir thriller stars Amy Adams as the central protagonist. Miserable amidst her luxurious home in LA, one day she receives a book in the post. It is from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal).

As Amy reads his novel (the subplot), we watch how she interprets the story. And, as events in the book unfold, we learn why Amy’s marriage to Edward broke down.

Rivalry & How Does He Do It?

A great subplot among two ambitious protagonists is a rivalry. In generally, rivalry spurs on those who want to achieve great feats. The question is always how far will either go (and what methods will one or both of them use) to get an advantage over the other.

What one or the other intends to do can make for a compelling subplot in a rivalry. This is partly because the writer can hide elements of what either of the protagonist is doing. In turn, this can make for a great plot-twist. (We shall discuss how to write plot-twists in a future blog post as well.)

Example – The Prestige

Christopher Nolan’s 2006 movie is one of his most underrated films (in my humble opinion). It is about two magicians, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), in fierce rivalry with one another, to be the best in the business.

That is the main thrust of the plot. But an intriguing subplot is the question of how Borden does his tricks. This consumes Angier, especially as it does not appear that Borden is doing anything supernatural…

how to write a great subplot -the prestige
Borden (Christian Bale) and Angiers (Hugh Jackman) in a rare exchange of words, as Angiers tries to get a glimpse into how Borden does his tricks.

Thank you

Thank you for reading my blog post on how to write a great subplot. I hope you have found it useful and interesting. Let me know what you think, and if I have left out an example of a subplot.


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