Thursday, August 16, 2007

Structural Analysis


Roof and Tree Forms,
Charles Demuth,
watercolor on paper, 1919.

It occurred to me recently that - among the many things I don't have solidified in my tiny mind - I'm not really sure just what constitutes a sub-plot.

If a novel is primarily suspence/mystery/thriller, does romantic interest constitute a sub-plot, for example?

Or does sub-plot involve the adventures - possibly reflective and parallel to the main plot - of minor characters, like gables on a roof line?

Somewhat connected to this question is the rule of thumb about another plot structure - episodic vs. what-ever-you-call-the-other-kind.

Charles posted about this last Tuesday and I'n still pondering over it. He describes the other kind as more resembling a maze or a mandela.

Now, I'm all in favour of ending chapters and scenes with questions/events that impel the reader onward to other rooms, but I have no idea if this form of architecture still stands as episodic.

Can any of you house inspectors help me out here?

14 comments:

sex scenes at starbucks said...

A subplot can be the romance in a thriller. I tend to view subplots as those little character traits and relationships that drive main characters to do (often stupid) things. For instance, from my own series:

I have a running subplot regarding my hero, Aidan, and his older cousin, Jason. Jason is quite protective of Aidan. They have almost a parent/child relationship, which Aidan doesn't understand and rebels against. But, Aidan doesn't know that Jason raised Aidan until he was two. Jason doesn't say much about it becuase he doesn't want Aidan to feel any pressure about it. Plus, losing Aidan was difficult for him and he can't quite allow himself to go back to that state of total love. It takes him three books to finally confess.

I think they also can be whatever drives bit characters, and in a series, sometimes subplots can take center stage later. In that same series, I have a subplot in the first book which becomes a main character's primary struggle in the second book.

Hope this helps at all.

Carla said...

Re sub-plots, I liked Peter Jackson's explanation of how he structured the Lord of the Rings films. In his view, Frodo carrying the Ring to Mount Doom was the main plot (I think he called it the A story). Everything else was sub-plots.

Bernita said...

Thank you, SS. Like that notation about minor theme > major difficulty in a series too.

I like that explanation also, Carla. Tends to confirm my feeble understanding. Thank you.

Jaye Wells said...

I believe subplots work best when they tie in thematically with the main plot in some way or force character growth. In other words, subplots should rarely just be thrown in without a specific purpose.

Church Lady said...

Hmmm....To me, a sub-plot is a mini-plot that either helps to propel the story arc or shows character growth.

In my story, the story arc is 2 kids traveling back in time and eventually making it back home. One of the subplots is losing (and finding) their dog. Another subplot is racing two bullies toward their destination.

Sex scenes--do you mean the development/change of a relationship is a subplot? I don't understand...

Gabriele C. said...

I've given up to distinguish between plots, subplots, plot threads, themes and the whole shenagian in my novels. They're such complex tapestries that the only qualifier is: can I leave that out and the tapestry still looks complete? If not, it stays, no matter what's called.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I really agree that the subplots should stem from themes and character growth. And yeah, the development of a relationship, in this case, is a subplot. I mean, they meet when Aidan is twenty years old and he has no idea that he even had a cousin, much less that he raised him for awhile. But they're oddly, suddenly close...

So the dynamics of certain relationships can grow into cool subplots. In this case, as I wrote Jason, he was just extremely protective of Aidan. It didn't make much sense until I started to think about why. Then a whole backstory developed. A backstory isn't a subplot, but there was a big question: why wouldn't he just tell Aidan? So that became the subplot--that Aidan notices how much his cousin cares for him and Jason doesn't explain it.

It pops up from time to time until Aidan finally gets the guts up to ask Jason outright. Jason's a nice guy, but very private and carries a lot of grief, so Aidan doesn't want to intrude. And Aidan is a "Seer" and is supposed to just know things--he's sensitive when he doesn't--he considers it a failure and doesn't like to admit his failures (this is a major flaw for him that manifests itself in all sorts of ways, including causing major impacts to the main plot).

Does that clarify how their character traits and relationship led to a subplot?

December/Stacia said...

Can't put it any better than SASS did. :-)

spyscribbler said...

I never thought about episodic vs. subplot. Is there a difference, or is the difference in the way the subplot is presented?

Thanks for his link. I have to bookmark his site!

Charles Gramlich said...

This is a good question. I guess I tended to think of subplot as anything, like the romantic interest, that fleshes out characters but doesn't directly impact the main line of the action (saving the world from terrorists or whatever). I'll have to give this more thought.

Bernita said...

Everyone, thank you. (I've been travelling and just returned.)

writtenwyrdd said...

Subplots can also inform the main plot, making the distinctions rather cloudy.

kmfrontain said...

That's a good question. Subplot... I don't know. Whatever stands out as the secondary most important thing driving a story along, could be the lives of secondary characters, could be a theme with the main characters, like romance within a thriller, but it just seems to me that, whatever it is, it stands out more than anything except the main plot, and must help drive the story forward.

I like Gabriele C.'s answer.

Bernita said...

Maybe it's one of those things "we know it when we see it," Karen!