The Power of the Sub-Plot

I wrote the novella The Wolf’s Choice at the end of last year and my main character Rebecca Ferguson (celeb lookalike Natalie Emanuel aka interpreter chick in Game of Thrones *smile*) has some issues with her parents, though more so with her father since he’s the one who’s still alive out of the two.

 

Celebrity lookalike for Rebecca

And I have to say I loved writing the dynamic between the two. Their struggle are the sub-plot in the story and ties in well with the romantic plot. And that’s what today’s post is about, sub-plots and why I love them *smile*

 
Growing up reading Barbara Cartland I can appreciate a good romance plot that focuses solely on the romance between the heroine and hero, but because I also read Afrikaans novels I fell in love with the strength a sub-plot provides a story. I liked how it showed that the main character formed part of a bigger world, rather than this microscopic isolated glimpse into their lives. Because who lives like that?

 
Of course every romance writer knows that you shouldn’t distract from the main characters and their story, but boy does it add a meatiness to them when you throw in a dash of family slash friends slash boss slash life issues *grin*

 
One Afrikaans novel I grew up reading showcased the heroine’s relationship with her family very strongly and those stories always made me go back to them. I loved the view I got from reliable sources (family members, friends & colleagues), as opposed to only the character.

 

Twilight DVDsThis ‘sells’ the character more to me and also makes the story less superficial. I think this was the biggest problem I had with Twilight (even though I love the series and have seen all the movies #TwiHard for life! *peace sign*), Bella tells us how mature she is. She tells us how she takes care of her mother. She tells us how helpful and responsible she is around the house. She tells us how scatterbrained her mother is. She basically tells us how she views herself…and in first person no less *smiles* And as she was telling me all of this, I didn’t believe her *shrug* She’s fallen for a hundred year old vampire who wants to drain her of her blood. Seriously, how responsible and smart can you be if you disregard a basic thing all humans had‒self-preservation.
I can say these things because I’m a fan of the series and Stephanie Meyer, I’m not dissing the book because I think it’s okay to talk down about the things teenage girls/women love, inadvertently telling them that their voices, ideas and choices doesn’t matter.

 
*takes deep breath*

 
Back to sub-plot *smile* I would’ve believed Bella more if those observations actually came from her parents or another relative. Because I didn’t see how doing house chores made you more mature than your parents, because than since age…goodness I can’t even remember, my siblings and I should’ve been considered mature. My mother would then tell you, ‘no they were not.’

 
As a romance writer we have a sense of who and what we want our characters to be, what issues we want them to deal with. I was told by someone in a romance writing group the romance plot was fairly straightforward. And they’re right. You’re writing a love story; the struggle to go from like to love is the plot. There’s no trick. Though what gives it substance is delving into the characters psyche and lives, and that’s where your sub-plot should shine.

 

This struggle will make the overall conflict of the story so much richer. I’m thinking of my current release Dance of Love (http://amzn.to/1AaLcDS) where Ashley has to fight her inner fear of failing, of not being a good a world-class ballet dancer as her father was. This heightened the tension in the book, these were human fears any person would have, not just someone in a romantic plot. This wasn’t only about a fear of getting your heart broken because you’ve been burned by past relationships (though there’s nothing wrong with that), this was something achingly universal. We’ve all felt that need to prove ourselves to our families and ourselves.

 

The story’s secondary characters created hues to her life in Rome. It showed that she could exist apart from the hero; if he’s not on the page she still had a life. It didn’t start and end with him. And yes, as a modern female living in the twenty-first century that’s a powerful message in romance to convey between the lines.

 
In a novella this is difficult to achieve because you only have so many words to write a sub-plot in and in The Wolf’s Choice I lucked out because Rebecca’s romance relied on her overcoming her issues with her father. In fact he’s the antagonist of the story. He stands in the way of her happily ever after.

 
I believe sub-plot works best when it does this, when it ties in neatly with the main struggle of the story. What do you think? And do you also enjoy sub-plots in love stories?

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