Friday, July 28, 2006

Up Periscope!


That's a stricken look you see on my face.
Reading over one of the Admiralty Manuals on Navigation (Donald Maass, which see) in tandem with Bonnie's workshops, and trying to apply the advice to my WIP - I saw the section on Sub-Plots.
Sub-plots? Bloody depth charges!
Arruugaah!
Klaxon shrieks. I'm taking on water.
I don't got no sub-plots.
At least, I don't think I do.
A typical problem for the semi-organic, semi-structured writer - you may know what you're doing, but you're not always able to translate methods into the words on the official blue-print.
Thought I had structured the novel in three main and interconnected compartments. Never thought of any section - the time-travel, the terrorism, or the tempation - as a sub-plot. The central character is central to each of them.
I think.
If they are sub-plots, the treatment of each could decide whether one sinks or swims.
Scrambling for and aft along this passage, I read that - unless these mini-plots support and parallel the main plot - a story might well achieve bouyancy without them.
Damn the torpedoes then.
Keep 'em down to two or three and connect 'em early, Maass advises.
Maass also seems to have absolutely no problem with the inclusion of different points of view to pilot sub-plots.
O Captain, my captain!
Again, he advises a tight spread on the target to avoid confusion, scattered sympathies, etc.
He suggests good sub-plots are a convoy of connections, complications(conflict), complexities and contrast (I'm not the only one who likes alliteration, I see) - and neither the sub-plots nor their POV's should run out of control.
I'm checking the chart for rocks and shoals and sonar ghosts though.

NOTE: Savannah has not been abducted by aliens, nor has she run off with - is it cabana boys who are the males du jour? - her book is out and her cover is up.
The cartoon was the one Blogger wouldn't let me post earlier this week.

24 comments:

Erik Ivan James said...

I'm using several small sub-plots in mine. Using them as a means to connect minor characters together in some instances, and connect them ultimately to the main character(s)in other instances. Right or wrong, they seem to be doing a good job at what I want them to do. Further along, I'll know....

Jen said...

My subplots have a tendency to take over.
Mutiny sir!
It gets very complicated with romantic suspense when there are already two simultaneous plots with balanced (I hope) influence. Throw in a couple of secondary characters and their angst and I usually have a recipe for "Arrrrrrrggggggh". LOL.
Full Speed ahead, Captain.

Flood said...

- you may know what you're doing, but you're not always able to translate methods into the words on the official blue-print.

Truer words were never written.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Heh! Excellent points, Bernita. Maass has a helluva head on his shoulders.

I'm with Jen on subplots taking over. I had to rewrite an entire book twice because of that. Arrrr, Matey. :-)

Bernita said...

Maass highly approves of your method, Erik, if I read him right.

Balance? You're doing fine, Jen.

Ah, you understand, Flood.

Indeed he does, Sonya. So much to try to get my head around.
And in the end, even if one has done things according to Hoyle, the question if one has done it well remains.

He mentiones that result, but also suggests it's not necessarily a Bad Thing - as long as one revises to accommodate.

Scott said...

Nice metaphor to make your point Bernita. I'd settle right now for a main story line.

Candice Gilmer said...

Sub-plots are always a good thing. And because I'm, well, because I'm me, my subplots can take on a life of their own. (One of the reasons my novel Unified Souls is the first in a series, rather than just a single novel)

However, I think that a good sub-plot can make a story, really, especially if it's somehow tied to the main story line.

And besides, i love complications.. :)

Bernita said...

The passionate concept, Scott?
Took me two years.

Whether my plot points in "Trio of Dragons" are sub-plots or not, Candice, they certainly need a series to resolve them.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I love Donald Maass...er, I don't LOVE him, I luv his books! LOL!

I actually got this one right! I've got two subplots that parallel my main plot. I use the character POV, and everything!

I just hope I got it right...time will tell!

kmfrontain said...

I must read this Maass. O_0

I agree that subplots should be there, and resolved, after having run through the thread of the novel. An organic writer would have to have a notes file to keep track of them, I suppose. I don't bother until I start losing track of them when the story gets larger, if I lose track. :D

For my first edit job with Freya's Bower, the author was missing out on the sub plots. I didn't call them such, didn't really have a word for it, just knew they were missing or undeveloped. And the first major job I gave her after getting to the end was to insert the necessary sub plots. The story is tight now, and so much better as a result.

Word of warning, those of you who are trying to write for "concise" wordage and storyline, you may be amputating your subplots in an effort to go with the trend of concise. Less is not always better.

Lisa Hunter said...

FWIW, I think TV writing structure is a big help in thinking about subplots. In writing for TV, you usually have an A (most important) story and a B (secondary)story. (If you're writing for an hour show, you may also have a C and even a D plot.)

Most TV writers outline the key scenes for each story line separately, then intermix. It makes for good drama when you can leave one story just at the most dramatic moment to go to the other story, leaving the audience hanging and wanting more. This is what Tolstoy did in Anna Karenina, so it's not just a cheesy TV formula.

Bernita said...

Great feeling, isn't it, Bonnie?

Properly handled, sub-plot can certainly enrich a story, Karen.
Blessings on editors who can spot them and advise.

Good advice also as it pertains to the story arc or to chapter construction, Lisa.

Savannah Jordan said...

Sub-plots. Secondary characters. ACK! My agent nagged and nagged about those. But, shhhh, don't tell her I said so. *wink* I hope I listened. I hope I got it right.

Most often, sub-plots for me end up being a short story, or novel of their own. I reign them in fairly tight in which ever WIP they are in, promising them all the while that one day they'll have a book of their very own.

As to cabana boys, Bernita, that was all Dennie's fault! She started it. ;) I like my Officier...

And thanks for the plug!

bookfraud said...

i am kinda skeptical about writing rules generally, but some of these make some sense. it's always been drilled into my head that in any work of fiction -- short story or novel -- you should only present what's necessary to advance the main story. not to embrace minimalism, but subplots that go nowhere and don't advance the story are a death knell. i'd stick the rule that the main story drives any subplots, not the other way around.

banal, perhaps, but works for me.

bookfraud said...

i am kinda skeptical about writing rules generally, but some of these make some sense. it's always been drilled into my head that in any work of fiction -- short story or novel -- you should only present what's necessary to advance the main story. not to embrace minimalism, but subplots that go nowhere and don't advance the story are a death knell. i'd stick the rule that the main story drives any subplots, not the other way around.

banal, perhaps, but works for me.

kmfrontain said...

Naturally we need the main story to drive a subplot. Not having read all the rule about subplots, I suppose I assumed this was the case. Isn't that the case with Maass?

Bernita said...

Welcome, Savannah!
Am sure it will do well!

The gospel according to Maass, Bookfraud, says if they don't contribute to the overall plot, they should be canned/cut/deleted.

I'm not sure about "driving" - semantics may cause confusion - the main plot must be able to navigate under its own power without any flotilla. Sub-plots may strength and enchance, shepherd and protect, but they are not the primary engines.

Bernita said...

Certainly is, Karen.
Imagine if you ever read him, you'd be nodding your head and saying "yup, did that."

Dakota Knight said...

I use sub-plots in my work, and I try to not let them take over. Sub-plots have been a necessary evil because I haven't been able to drag 90,000 words out of my brain on one plot alone.

kmfrontain said...

Sub plots equals sequels.

Bernita said...

Sub-plots may certainly deepen a story, Dakota, and I admire those who handle them.

Good point, Karen.

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