Subplots are like the minor characters in a novel: at the surface, they appear inessential, but are so to add depth, complexity and tension to the telling of a story.
Subplots are the stories within a story that support or drive the main plot. They serve as secondary plots that connect to the main plot in time, place or thematic significance.
In my novel “Dropping Colors,” Will Banks and his band, the Slingers, serve as a secondary plot that moves concurrently with the unfolding of the main plot of Kate Letts losing her art supplies in a fire.
The two plot strands will intersect at the point of Kate and Will meeting at a coffee shop where the Slingers are playing. The plot strands will diverge again as the two characters continue operating in their individual lives until they form a relationship based on their mutual passion for the arts.
The characters within the subplot – called supporting or minor characters – have to interact with the characters in the main plot at some point in the telling of the story. Otherwise, the different stories remain separate as if part of a short story collection.
What occurs in the subplots serves to complicate the life of the main character. Subplots can be about almost anything in a main character’s private, personal, or professional life, such as a budding romantic relationship or a complication in the workplace from a jealous co-worker.
Subplots (whether a single strand or several) take up less space, involve less of the action and have less significant events that occur.
Subplots connect with the main plot to add an idea, impact the novel’s resolution, introduce secondary characters or depict characteristics of the main character that readers otherwise wouldn’t see.
If there are too many subplots, they distract the reader from the main plot.
The subplots have to contrast with the plot but not repeat or compete with it.
And they are complete stories with a beginning, middle and end.