12 Days of Planning Your Novel: Subplots

In my series, 12 Days of Planning Your Novel, I help you create an amazing outline. Learn about incorporating subplots in your story.

Adding subplots to your novel is a really great way to make your story more interesting as well as help you hit your word count goal. So far in this series, 12 Days of Planning Your Novel, I’ve covered figuring out what to write about, conducting research, character development, story vs. plot, starting your outline, creating conflict, and using other stories as inspiration. Let’s talk about the importance of subplots and how you can add them to your outline in a natural way.

Subplots add depth and interest to your story. Think about your favourite novels or movies. Did they focus on one main story line the whole time? Likely not. That’s why they’re your favourite. They probably have complicated characters with complicated problems. This is the easiest way to come up with an idea for your subplot: focus on your characters.

Use Your Main Characters to Drive Your Subplot

Think back to my post on character development. Did you write a backstory for your main character? Does your main character have an odd hobby or quirk that could form an interesting subplot? Here are some ideas for subplots based on your main characters:

  • Backstories

  • Quirks or hobbies

  • Secret crush or romance

  • Goals or motivations that are secondary to the main story

A good subplot will help develop your main plot. This will include things like showing your readers a different side of your main characters, increasing tension, or adding some suspense.  

Subplots are an important story element to make sure your readers keep turning the pages. Here's how you can incorporate subplots in your novel outline.

Create Suspense with a Subplot

Suspense is a great way to keep your readers turning the pages and wanting more. I recently learned that suspense doesn’t necessarily have to be a surprise to your reader, and that it’s actually more effective if you show the readers something that the protagonist doesn’t know. They’re going to keep reading to find out if, how, and when the protagonist will learn about this information.

To use suspense as a subplot, you might show your readers what’s going on behind the scenes. Your subplot could be the story from the point of view of your villain. You might show your readers what the villain is doing to stop your hero from reaching their goal and your readers will be on the edge of their seats wondering what’s going to happen.

Highlight a Secondary Character in your Subplot

Secondary characters are a great way to naturally include subplots in your story, because these characters are involved with the main characters in some way, and sharing some of their story gives the readers more insight into your story as a whole. Here are some secondary characters that lend themselves well to subplots:

  • Best friend of the protagonist

  • Accomplice to the antagonist

  • Relative of a main character

  • Love interest of a main character

The key to creating a subplot that flows naturally in your story is making sure it’s connected and secondary to your main plot. In Murder Audit, one subplot was an affair I created between two secondary characters. Try mapping out your subplot separately from your main plot and then use your outline to figure out how the scenes in your subplot will interconnect with and fit into your main plot.

Don’t worry if you’re not completely sure where the scenes in your subplot(s) will occur in relation to your main plot. You can always move them around during the editing process.

For more information on creating natural subplots that add to your story rather than distract from it, check out these two blog posts:

How to Add Subplots to Your Story

Subplots Ideas: 5 Tips for Writing Better Subplots

I’d love to know in the comments below, how you will seamlessly incorporate subplots into your novel.