Michaeline: Multicasuality, My Word Of The Week

Nineteenth circus poster with a young lady taming several tigers and lions.

My heroine has more than one tiger to tame. I need to find out which one is the most important tiger of the bunch.

Stories aren’t always simple. In fact, although you sometimes meet a story that drives single-mindedly to its conclusion like a bowling ball dropped out of a fourth-story window, usually a story will have frills and complications. Much like our world today, many of the best stories, especially if they are long ones, have multiple causes that pile up and turn into a big, beautiful story.

When we were in class the first year, we spent a lot of time talking about main plots. There had to be one protagonist, one antagonist and one major conflict that drives the story. (-: More than once, I got the comment, “Pick a lane!” on my submissions.

We didn’t discuss sub-plots that much, and how they fit into the story, but sub-plots are mostly there to support and drive the main story even faster to its conclusion.

For example, in Pride and Prejudice we’re talking about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth wants a partner she can love and respect. Darcy thinks he wants a partner he can respect – she must be pretty, witty, kind, cultured and above all, a book reader who has shaped her mind into intelligent channels. Initially, Elizabeth sees a proud man who has no real reason, and Darcy sees a country bumpkin.

The subplots promote these initial views. Mrs. Bennet’s actions when searching for husbands for her daughters reinforce Darcy’s ideas that the neighborhood is provincial and not up to his standards. Darcy’s snubs of Mr. Wickham reinforce Elizabeth’s ideas that Darcy is an unreasoning and unkind snob – not the sort of man she’d like to live with for the rest of her life.

The subplot with Mr. Collins show both Darcy and Elizabeth what happens when a couple “settles”.

Later, subplots bring the couple together again. Several of the subplots and throwaway lines involving Wickham make Darcy resolve to save Elizabeth’s reputation. It helps a lot that by this time, Darcy is in love with Elizabeth, but the subplots give him reason. The same subplots give Elizabeth despair that she’ll ever be able to win over Mr. Darcy.

In my favorite stories, there’s a layering of plot and subplot. There’s not just one thing that motivates the characters – they have many reasons to arrive at the same place as their ‘tagonist. (-: Learning how to weave these threads together without confusing the reader is the lesson I need to learn.

How about you? Have you got any subplots that you find particularly endearing?

11 thoughts on “Michaeline: Multicasuality, My Word Of The Week

  1. I think writers can fun with subplots precisely because those characters aren’t the H/H. So they can be funnier, raunchier, more stupid—more extreme in every way. That gives the writer more room to have them support the main themes in multiple ways.

    • This is very true. I just re-watched Princess Bride last night with a friend, and I have to say. Buttercup is useless. Wesley is pretty cool. But Inigo Montoya? I told my friend, “Oh, I wish they had made the whole story about him!” Yeah, probably wouldn’t have worked. But his subplot is very compelling.

      • Princess Bride is so much fun though, as you say, Buttercup is useless. Do you think the story works because she’s such an archetype, or would it have worked even better if she’d developed more agency?

        You’re so right about Inigo Montoya. I’ve been struggling to think of a sub-plot I really like (generally I skim them unless they’re so tightly tied into the main plot that theyr’e unskippable), but Mandy Patinkin steals the movie. Incidentally, if you have the DVD and you didn’t do it already, check out the extras. There’s a wonderful one about how much work and know-how went into the sword-fighting scenes.

        • Oooh, we should save this for a real post, but yeah. Buttercup. I think in the author’s mind, she has to be useless, because girls are only good as prizes and for kissing — that’s the trope in most fantasies. Although, Miracle Max’s wife, Valerie, is a real firecracker, and the other old witch who goes “Boo, boo” has a lot of power, too.

          The story probably is really about three people building a team and saving the day, despite various ridiculous problems. Would that make Buttercup a subplot? Girls like team-building, even if it’s guys who are doing it.

          The Princess Bride came out when I was in college, I think. But just suppose it came out when we were in, say, fifth-grade? Who would you want to be on the playground during recess? Dibs on Inigo!

          (-: I did watch the extras many years ago. I’ll have to rewatch. Amazing dance!

          (BTW, I like Princess Bride, but it’s not a must-see, yearly event sort of thing for me. I think I’ve only seen the whole thing twice, now. The best parts for me was the interplay between the readers and the story. Followed by the sword-fighting with banter!)

        • I have seen Princess Bride so many times I can practically quote the entire movie. It annoys my husband to no end. To me, it’s just good fun. You’re right about Buttercup…she seems tough, but she doesn’t do much.

        • I love Princess Bride, though not really for the love story. Because it’s an enhanced fairy tale, Buttercup is basically a sentient McGuffin. Once she’s learned to have faith in Wesley, she believes in him in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary and plays into the great fairy tale trope of true love transcending even death. She’s not so much of a vehicle for the snark and action, which is where the real joy of the movie lives.

          I think Miracle Max’s wife is Billy Crystal’s real-life wife, and I believe they had a lot of input into Max and Valerie. Their cameo really enriched the movie. There’s an interview with them in the extras too, and Mel Smith (the torturer), who’s a well-known comedian over here. Another bonus for me is the scenery, as the movie was filmed very near to where I grew up.

          If you have playground dibs on Inigo, I’d have to be Prince Humperdinck. Sure, he loses in the end, but he has a lot of wicked, scheming fun on the way.

        • Oh, Humperdinck IS delightful! I see a lot of him showing up in one of Shrek’s villains. Prince Charming on the outside, Mr. Hyde on the inside. His motivations are all quite clear and in order, too. Not admirable motivations, but still, understandable and very good for a villain.

          Beautiful countryside in that movie, too!

        • Justine, you are right about all the quotable quotes — that would work in an astonishing range of circumstances! The big one that one needs to understand to get pop culture today is that “As you wish” means “I love you”. But there was another one — “I will always come for you.” That one ALSO showed up in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, and I’d forgotten that it came from The Princess Bride. It really resonates, though.

  2. Another good book with juicy subplots (one might argue that they’re NOT subplots, but they’re so rich, they must be) is Sylvester by Georgette Heyer. The main plot revolves around Sylvester “checking out” Phoebe to see if she’s marriage worthy, when a host of problems ensue: she asks her friend Tom to get her to her grandmother’s house, and the carriage tumbles and Tom breaks his leg…Sylvester happens upon them.

    Phoebe has written a book (anonymously) that mocks Sylvester (anonymously) and it’s a huge hit — AND everyone knows who Count Ugolino is supposed to be. Naturally, this pisses Sylvester off.

    Part of the plot in the book is the sister-in-law of Count Ugolino takes her son (who is also the heir) and absconds with him, which Sylvester’s SIL, Ianthe, does. Of course, Sylvester blames Phoebe for this (even though Phoebe and Tom tried to convince Ianthe to return the heir to Sylvester, and end up sailing to Calais with nothing but the clothes on their back).

    While the main sticking point of the story is Sylvester and Phoebe, all of the other things that happen — Ianthe’s marriage and removal of her son/the heir, not to mention her stupid new husband, Sir Nugent Fotherby; Tom’s broken leg and his determination to help her by not returning her to her father; and the anonymously published novel, which doesn’t remain anonymous for long, all make for a great read and really stir the pot for Sylvester and Phoebe.

    • Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! Heyer is a fabulous plotter, and can make the reader suspend disbelief under some really trying circumstances (-:. I have Sylvester . . . I see a major Heyer re-read in my future!

  3. Pingback: Jilly: I’d Love to Read His Story – Eight Ladies Writing

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