Analyzing Subplots


subplots markers

Still working on making sense of the hot mess that is the first book of my Dagger Trilogy. One of the book’s major problems was that I had a lot of different goals and objectives, and they all kind of got tangled together. So, I’ve been untangling these threads and subsequently spending a lot of time thinking about subplots.

Once I finalized my list of what all the different subplots were, I needed to get my head around what was happening in each of the subplots. For this, I turned to my beloved Arc book. (And I don’t say ‘beloved’ lightly. I wrote a whole blog post about this particular book.) This was my set up:


On the ‘thin list’ paper, I defined the following:

  • Type: (book vs trilogy)
  • Players: (which characters are involved)
  • Objective: (what the arc’s main characters want)
  • Obstacles: (what’s standing in the way)
  • Resolution: (how do they solve the problem / DO they solve it?)

On the ‘to do list’ paper (Left), I listed all scenes in the current draft of the manuscript that relate to this subplot. I actually did that step first, because it helped me get a better idea of what the objectives and obstacles were.

Then, on the ‘project planning’ paper (Right), I used the left box to list things in the subplot that weren’t working. In the lined section on the page, I brainstormed solutions, and then in the box at the bottom, I listed new scenes or editing notes that would implement those changes

And yes, if you must know, I had myself a gleeful little party when this was done because I felt so organized that I didn’t even care that the novel itself was still a mess.


Once I broke down the subplots, I found that my most common problem was that the resolutions came too easily without my characters actively working to obtain their goals. My initial solution to this was just to add more obstacles, but my book started getting really crowded, and some of the ideas just felt like trouble for trouble’s sake.

The revisions I’m liking the most involve really setting up why this is important, and having the character make some kind of decision. As a reader, I’m always more intrigued by ‘moment of choice’ than with the more action-y scenes anyway. (Aka, Bilbo Baggins on his way to meeting Smaug. My favorite scene in The Hobbit. Because J. R. R. Tolkien is The Man.)

YES! That is indeed a psychedelic hippie bus candle with three flames.

YES! That is indeed a psychedelic hippie bus candle with three flames.

Now, of course I still have to go back in and actually implement these changes (unless the writing fairies decide to do it for me…? Please…?) so I’m far from finished with this draft, but I have more of a plan than I did before, and a nice little template for the next time I need to tackle subplots.  



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