What next? Bring in the sub-plot

(NaNoWriMo cheerleading post for November 6)

I often save the plot outlines I make for my novels.  They’re good for a laugh later on.  When I’m writing, I have a mental image of pivotal scenes in the book, and those tend to stick in the outline.  But how I get there is different from what I planned.  That’s a good thing.  Writing is an act of creation, and originality sustains the reader’s suspense and interest.

One way to get from one pivotal scene to another in your main story is to go off-road.

Introduce a sub-plot

Fiction, whether it’s genre fiction or literary fiction, follows well-worn paths, and memoir draws from the same set of maps.  It’s how you get there that interests your reader.

One way to strike off the path is to introduce a sub-plot, a second story that the reader can look forward to, with a character who complements your main theme.

For instance, in the novel I’m writing now, my protagonist has a neighbor who keeps interfering and who gradually takes over her household while she’s dealing with everything else.  When I get to the end of a scene, rather than letting the suspense deflate, I let the neighbor barge in.  It’s a change of pace that creates conflict, but it also says something about the theme of individual responsibility my main character embodies.

Pick a character, any character:  a process server, an ex-boyfriend, a bowling buddy, your mother, or anyone else you can think of, and when you can’t decide how to get from Point A to Point B in your main story, bring your secondary odd-job employee on the scene to do the job.  It will add richness and complexity to your story, it will keep the plot from losing steam in between scenes, and it will give your reader something to have in the back of her head while reading the main story.

And when you are all finished at the end of the month, go back and revise your outline, so it looks as if you meant your story to go this way all along.  It helps to put your plot in columns, with the main plot in one column and the subplot (or subplots) in side columns.  That helps you develop that small side story more effectively.

Tomorrow:  Off-Road, U-Turns, and Missed Exits – What to Do When Your Plot Goes off the Rails

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