Friday, 13 November 2015

The hidden story

Happy Friday!

I thought I'd talk about sub-plots today. Do you realise how many stories are going on within the book you're reading?

Let's back up a little first of all. What is the plot? Well, simply put, when you're describing to a friend, a book you've recently read, you're really describing the plot. It's the outline of the story.

But what you don't usually describe are the stories going on beneath that plot.

Let's think about a story most of you will know; the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, for example. We're all familiar with the story of the boy wizard and his adventures over the course of the series of books, but what sub-plots are going on?

These sub-plots just chug along in the background. They flesh the story out so that it's not all about Harry developing into a powerful wizard and moving from one scene to the next on his path to the final showdown with Lord Voldemort.

They're what make the book exciting and bring the characters to life.

So how many sub-plots can you have? Well, there's no rule about the number, but what really is important to a tale is to have something going on. If you have no sub-plots your story becomes very one-dimensional and not a good read.

In the brilliant Harry Potter series there were way too many sub-plots to mention, but to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here are just a few:

  • friendships between Harry and other characters, Ron, Hermione, Neville, etc
  • rivalry between Harry and Draco
  • politics between the teachers at Hogwarts
  • connection between Harry and Sirius Black
  • Harry's struggle to be accepted as an everyday (albeit a wizard) boy instead of a celebrity
  • budding romance between Harry and Cho
  • Ginny's attraction to Harry
  • romance between Ron and Hermione
These all sit in the background making the characters real - giving you, the reader, something else to think about, something to keep you turning the pages.

In my own story, Torn, there were quite a number of sub-plots. One in particular, that I've received quite favourable reviews about, was the relationship between Julia and Deon. Seems that people are more interested in Julia and Deon than I expected and I even received an email from a reader asking if I could write Julia's story!

There were other sub-plots going on, like the friendship between Patrick and Simon and Patrick's clandestine relationships. These could not be explored too deeply because Torn is written from one character's point of view (which is why I have written the Counterpoint series). 

Of course one very important sub-plot is the war against Napoleon that is a constant throughout both Torn and Inviolate and although it doesn't impact my characters' daily routines, initially, it eventually begins to encroach to the point where it changes the course of their lives.

So the sub-plot is integral to a story - if you think about any book you've read, there will be sub-plots going on.

I'm often asked about the difference between plot and theme. We can talk about that another day.

Oh, before I forget: NaNoWriMo is on again so it's time to get to work!

Until next week, think about the book you're currently reading and identify at least one sub-plot.

Roman Gladiator reading Inviolate? Why not?

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