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?