Building Subplots that Enhance the Main Plot

Subplots are like the unsung heroes of your story. They work behind the scenes, adding depth, complexity and richness to your main plot. But not all subplots are created equal.

To truly make your narrative shine, your subplots should resonate with your main storyline, highlighting its themes, illuminating your characters, and keeping your readers intrigued.

What Is a Subplot?


A subplot is a secondary plot that supports and enhances your main story. Think of it as a side story that unfolds alongside the main storyline, often involving secondary characters. Subplots can help develop your characters, explore your story’s themes from different angles, create conflict, and maintain pacing and interest.

Subplot vs. Main Plot

Let’s take an example from J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. Yes, I know I refer to this series a lot, but it’s because it encompasses so many elements of good writing, and it’s also one of my favs!

The main plot revolves around Harry’s quest to defeat the dark wizard Voldemort. But several subplots enhance the main storyline—Hermione’s crusade for the rights of house elves, the Triwizard Tournament, and the romantic tensions between several characters like Ron and Hermione and Harry and Ginny.

These subplots contribute to character development, theme exploration and tension building, enhancing the main storyline.

How Many Subplots Do You Need?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this. The number of subplots you need will depend on the length and complexity of your story. One or two well-developed subplots will suffice for a short story or novella, but I’ve used upwards of half a dozen subplots in some of my novels.

Multiple subplots can help maintain pacing and interest in a longer novel or series. However, it is important to strike a balance, as too many subplots can confuse the reader. I always say that it depends on how many characters you have. The bigger the cast, the more subplots you can introduce.

But the most important factor to consider is that subplots serve the main plot. They should be connected in some way and have a real purpose within the story. Whether that’s to develop a character, create a new conflict or move the setting from one place to the next.

Do Subplots Need a Resolution?

Yes, subplots should generally have a resolution, but it might not be as clear-cut or dramatic as the main plot’s climax. The resolution can happen anywhere in the latter part of the story and should feel satisfying to the reader.

Tips for Creating Subplots

  1. Ensure relevance: Your subplot should relate to the main plot by either contrasting or complementing it.
  2. Develop characters: Use subplots to flesh out secondary characters or reveal new aspects of your main characters.
  3. Pace your story: Subplots can help break the tension of the main plot and keep the readers’ interest.
  4. Add depth: Use subplots to explore themes or ideas in more detail.

When used effectively, subplots can elevate a simple story into a compelling narrative filled with depth and richness. But they require a delicate balance. They should neither overpower the main plot nor be so inconsequential that they can be removed without altering the story. Practice, as always, will make perfect.