Artwork by: PoshKrogan
I really enjoy writing sub plots within my work. Not only do they sometimes offer a bit of a break from the central idea of the novel, they can give you more information on the characters your working with (or reading about), the world the novel is taking place in, and in general just more depth to the story itself.
In my opinion, this is true for most writing that involves individual stories that stray from the main plot of the story. A popular work I can think of that does this at the moment is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. I’ll use this as my example for this post, because I believe that the sub plots within this series are well thought out and show how intricate the designing of sub plots can be.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, you start out following a few main characters, as is typical of most Fantasy where there are plans to have many sub plots weaving in and out of the story being told. Anyway, at the beginning the story is straightforward. Three of the Starks are heading to King’s Landing, where they’re supposed to live and deal with the king and all that crap. But then oops! The king dies, and suddenly the queen and the new king are trying to eliminate the Starks. Up until here the story is clear, but then a major event happens that really changes the course of the series. Something to think about is that central idea of the novel doesn’t change (everyone is still technically fighting for survival and to gain the Iron Throne), but once that major event happens, you’re sent off following the characters you’ve become used to in different directions that don’t directly follow what you’ve come to think of as the main “story”.
Each of these sub plots builds towards the main story, enhances the characters, and are (generally speaking) strategically placed to build up another story within the story, that may or may not be resolved in the book its started in. These sub plots may be minor, or even so important that they rival the main storyline. Personally, I enjoy a mixture of long, short, minor and important story lines.
For an example of the story lines that I’ve got going in Taichiren’s Heart, at the start of the book you’re following one main character, Kristinn, and her interactions with Mydeth, Cysar, and whoever else she happens to talk to. There are several scenes with Tael’rah and Eldjcer that show you the other side of the story, brief glimpses of what’s to come. Once Kristinn and Cysar get to Aelhurst, the v’yeran city, the POV switches between Kristinn/Cysar, Tael’rah, Eldjcer, and Mydeth. The POVs change again by the end of the book, shifting to Kristinn/Dyndara, Tael’rah/Cysar, Eldjcer, Mydeth/Laecsam, etc., as they go along completing their respective parts of the story. I think from all of these point of views, the only one actually working toward the main story is Tael’rah/Cysar. All of the others briefly touch over the main story at certain points of their story lines, but in general, work on weaving interesting relationships between the characters and expanding the story in different directions.
Overall, I really like novels that have well thought out sub plots. I see them as an opportunity to get close to the characters, learn more about everything, and increase the depth of the story being told. Unfortunately I appear to be experiencing a bit of a mind-fart and can’t think of any other books with really well done sub plots… but there’s lots of them out there. R.A. Salvatore does a good job over the Legend of Drizzt series. I actually loved the sub plots in the Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan (the writing in that series was amazing in general, if you’re looking for a good Fantasy series I’d suggest taking a look asap!)