Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of thirty-five novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill and Summerside Press. A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Book of the Year. She is also the founder ofwww.MyBookTherapy.com
, a crafting and coaching community for writers.
A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com
Bomb in the Body: A lesson on Subplots
Okay, raise your hand out there
if you watch Grey’s Anatomy. It’s okay, no one can see you. And, not like I’m
raising MY hand or anything, but hypothetically, let’s just say that if you are
familiar with this particular medical (and I’m using that term a bit freely)
drama, then you know that it is really a big long soap opera. Grey’s Anatomy
is, essentially, the on again, off again, now on (they’re sort of married, so I
think it will stick) romance of Dr. Derrick McDreamy and Dr. Meredith Grey. Inside
all this romance are the daily (read: episodic) events of a hospital in
What makes Grey’s fun are the
running monologues of the lead heroine, the thematic nuances she puts into the
story, usually centered around the events of the episode, but also alluding to
her current state of relationship with Derrick. One could say that the episode
theme relates to the overall story arc of the series.
Episodes in a show like this act at subplots to the main
story. They are by subplot definition: Short, but concise stories that reveal
theme, and taken alone, would stand on their own merit.
Let’s take one of my favorites
(er, I mean, one that I’ve heard about…oh, forget it, I’m a Grey’s addict. I
admit it). ..the Bomb in the Body episode. (Also had Kyle Friday Night Lights
guy (formerly Early Edition) guest starring, and I just love him). The subplot
starts with the inciting incident: a fella comes in with a hole in his gut. A paramedic
is holding onto the bleeding inside his body.
Conflict: If she takes her hand
out, then he’ll bleed to death, so they have to take them up to surgery. Further
conflict: Wife comes in and reveals that the man was playing with a bazooka and
there is an unexploded bomb in his body. More conflict: Paramedic freaks out,
pulls her hand from his body, wherein Dr. Grey takes her place.
Of course, Meredith is doomed,
and the rest of the show is her wishing that she could turn back time and
rethink where she is right now.
Meanwhile, in the BIG plot,
Derrick, the Dr. and she have had an affair, and she’s in love with him UNTIL
just a few weeks prior his WIFE (and poor Meredith didn’t even know she existed
until then) shows up. (again this is rather old, if you follow the plot, but
such a good example I had to use it.) Derrick wants a divorce…he thinks. But,
maybe not, so he decides to give his marriage another chance.
is broken. She wishes she could turn back time and rethink her life. See the parallel?
Of course, they get the bomb
out of the body, and sadly, as cute Kyle walks away with it, it blows up. He’s
vaporized. And Meredith is left with blood all over her, a casualty of another
person’s errors in judgment. Of course, the patient who wreaked all this havoc,
Again, see the parallel to the
main story arc?
A great subplot is about mirroring the theme of the main
plot. It can either enhance it – i.e.,
show what could happen if one choice is made, or put it in relief – show what
will happen if that choice isn’t
made. It can be a testing ground for “what if.”
I employ subplots frequently in
a large (90K+) novel because of the depth they bring to the main storyline. In
the Shadow of Your Smile (Tyndale)
out last month, the subplot between the son and daughter of two of the main
characters allows me to reach a wider audience and actually add a “romance”
into the story (as opposed to a “love story” thread that embodies the bulk of
Subplots can also launch your
next story. In Baroness (Summerside,
hitting bookstores any day), the subplot actually serves as the backstory for
the story I’m writing right now – Duchess.
The heroine in Baroness, Rosie Worth,
has a smaller storyline, but it’s profound enough that I could carry her over
into her own book.
The biggest subplot I’ve ever
written is the subplot within a subplot I put into Taming Rafe (Tyndale, a few years ago). In the novel, a love story
written by one of the characters reveals the feelings that character has for a
woman he’s never declared his love to, written via the romance of the
characters in HIS book, a book that the POV characters in Rafe all read. (Okay,
did that make sense? Basically, it’s a story within a story that tells declares
his love for her via the characters.) It is a fun subplot because the reader
essentially gets three romances in one story.
A lot of bang for their buck.
As you’re developing your
subplot, ask yourself – what lesson will the characters in my main plot learn? Is
there a smaller lesson, or a piece of that lesson I can illuminate through the
Remember, a subplot has to have
all the elements of a story: Inciting incident, conflict, black moment,
epiphany and a climatic ending.
Here’s a hint – a good subplot
should start after you’ve establish the main character, perhaps in chapter two
or three. And, you should tie up the threads of your subplot before you get
into the finale of your main plot. To keep the subplot flowing, I usually put
in one subplot pov per every 4-5 main POVS. That way I don’t overwhelm the main
If you want a deeper, wider
story, try inserting a subplot. You’ll be giving your reader more for their
money, and create characters you might even use for book 2!
Thank you Novel Rocket for
allowing me to stop by! Can I put in a shameless plug for our membership site?
If you are an aspiring author, check out MBT (www.mybooktherapy.com/join-the-team
). Or reader our blogs (AFTER you read Novel Rocket, of
course) at www.mybooktherapy.com
get your daily dose of writing craft.
Have a great writing day!
Susie May Warren
Coming of age in the turbulent Roaring Twenties, two daughters of fortune can have anything they possibly want—except freedom.
Expected to marry well and take the reins of the family empire, Lilly and Rosie have their entire lives planned out for them. But Lilly longs to flee the confines of New York City for the untamed wilds of Montana. Her cousin Rosie dreams of the bright lights of the newly emerging silver screen. Following their dreams—to avant-garde France, to dazzling Broadway, to the skies of the fearless wing walkers—will demand all their courage.
When forced to decide, will Lilly and Rosie truly be able to abandon lives of ease and luxury for the love and adventure that beckons? At what cost will each daughter of fortune find her true love and a happy ending?