Connecting the Outlier

A novel uses multiple plot lines for a number of purposes. A subplot might provide periodic breaks in the main plot’s momentum to keep a reader hanging in suspense at the end of chapters. It might contain a principal character whose influence becomes important later. However unaligned the plot lines are as the book develops, readers expect that they will converge at some point.

What happens, though, if one plot line seems irrelevant or, worse, less engaging than the other? The lead character of the plot line might be fully in command of its unfolding events. As the book develops, readers clearly see how it connects to the main story. Yet every time we turn to it, the reading feels like a chore. It’s just not as interesting.

One way to enhance it is obvious: change its plot events to become more exciting. Is that always the right course, though? If the events become too interesting, they will distract from the drive of the main plot. A better choice may be changing the main supporting character in the subplot. In most cases, you can’t change the main character, because they are playing a designated role. Often, that is the President or other leading light whose main purpose is to increase the stakes of the main plot. A supporting character does not have that burden, which makes their purpose more flexible.

The change in character offers many choices, depending on how you want to make the plot line merge with the main plot. What would most effectively accomplish the goal? A strong link to a character in the main plot, either on the good or villainous side. A go-between, if you will. For instance, Karen is not afraid to speak her mind to the President, but she also has an itch for Lee, the leader of the main plot, dating back to college. Even better, she is secretly working with Murgatroyd on their devilish designs.

Since such an addition means changing the purpose of the subplot’s chief supporting character, that will likely entail writing entirely new subplot scenes. But is that really a problem? The subplot is dull now. What you will find is that because you know how the new supporting character connects with the main plot, the direction of the subplot will change so that its interplay with the main plot is stronger. Now the reader turns to the subplot with a heightened awareness that somehow, pretty soon, its relevance to the main story will be revealed.

Exercise: It is important in choosing the right supporting character that they create conflict within the subplot. That is still where they will be spending the most time. You can alter the topics that are being fought over to tilt toward the main plot, however obliquely, or position the character—say, as a tech whiz when the main plot is tech-oriented—so the connection is implicit.

“All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.”
—Maya Angelou

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.