Friday, April 20, 2007

Subplots and my endless appreciation for them..

I used to read a lot of historical romance. There were a steady stream in the nineties that all went in a similar fashion.
The first two hundred pages were completely focused on the hero and heroine, their first meeting, the back and forth of dialogue, the building of sexual tension, all delicious, culminating in the hero and heroine sleeping together sometime between pages 200 and 250.

Then the author realized, crap! I have another 200 pages to fill. Enter the suspense subplot, which sometimes kept the hero and heroine apart, sometimes just gave them something to do, but added another 100 -200 pages to a book that should have ended at page 200, which is usually the point where I stopped reading.

Because usually the suspense subplot had been tacked on, added nothing to the main plot, (the romance) and the resolution was obvious from the first page.

But when a subplot is weaved into a book properly, chosen so it will enhance the main plot and increase tension, the books moves at a faster pace, and keeps the reader interested.

Some books that are intensely enhanced by their subplots, Silent in the Grave. Really, by the end do you care who killed her husband? But the investigator. The questions surrounding him kept me reading till the end, Poison Study. A study in pacing and the value of subplots in keeping a book really interesting.

One of the things I assumed with romance when I first started writing, was that the romance was the main plot. But I’ve been re-examining some of my favourite romances and discovering that isn’t the case.

The Promise Of Jenny Jones - the romance is definitely a subplot. The main plot is Jenny keeping her promise to ensure the little girl gets home safely. That the romance is weaved in so intricately into all of this makes it a huge subplot, the main plot is right there in the title.
Same with the Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale. I love this book, but I’d argue that the main plot of this book is the hero rediscovering his passion for life, his character arc, rather than the romance, which again, is a huge subplot and so intricately weaved in, you almost can’t separate the two plots.
Take a look at most paranormal romances on the shelves, and again, I’d bet in more than half, the romance is a subplot.

Why does this matter? Because subplots when done really well, are woven so intricately into the fabric of the story that they are sometimes hard to distinguish from the main plot, and either add to the character’s growth, or alternatively contrast the main plot.

Being able to distinguish plot from subplot in my admittedly twisted novels, helps me write a pared down synopsis and it has changed the way I approach plotting a book.

And on a completely unrelated topic. Anyone watching Drive, the new Fox show. I’m a fan of Nathan Fillion, from the vastly underappreciated Firefly, and the exec producer of Drive is the same from that show as well.
Was unsure about the show through the 2 hr preview, until the third episode, where some lovely questions are raised about Nathan’s character that completely changed my view of him.
Right now I’m on board, for that reason, and the Father and Daughter team, and, the so far, great dialogue between them.

Anyone else seen it?


Maureen McGowan said...

This is an immensely interesting post, Sinead. I mean, everyone in RWA-land will insist that in romance, the main plot is the romance. It’s part of the mantra.
Hmmm.. Maybe it’s a matter of taste/preference? If so, I think I’m with you in terms of the types of romances I like. I think perhaps the reason I find some romances very unsatisfying reads is that main question/plot is “will they get together” and the answer to that is, well, obvious. If, however, there is another big, important, high stakes question to be answered, and how it’s answered affects and complicates the “will they get together” question. Then that, for me, makes a good book.
I’m bummed that I’m not watching Driven. It looked interesting but I figured now that I’ve missed the start, it’s too late? Do you think I could jump in and enjoy it at this stage? What am I saying? The last thing I need is another TV show monkey on my back.

Sinead M said...

Jump in, watch it with me..
If for nothing else than Nathan Fillion, who was so wonderful in Firefly and lets just a hint of something dark come through the surface of his supposedly nice guy.

It's early in the series. You haven't missed much..
Come to the dark side..

Kimber said...

Wow, you just clarified why some people don't think my manuscripts are romance.

My love story happens while the main business plot is rolling out. The character growth is driven by the main plot also (I don't believe simply falling in love is enough to change a person).

So does this mean I get kicked out of the club?

Sinead M said...

I have the same thing, Kimber. My main plot usually isn't the romance either, but it's a huge subplot.
And even with some of the best, most effective romances I've read, the romance is a subplot.

Stay in the club, we need people working from the inside to tweak the romance genre.

MaryF said...

I like Nathan FIllion, too, and he's the reason I'm watching Drive as well. Very intriguing characters. I like the brothers, too.

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