Suspense writers, good ones, are artisans with the subplots often tying them all together in the end. Trilogies and series depend on the sub-plot to keep a certain premise alive throughout the series. Romances often introduce a minor romance as a subplot to intrigue the reader. Buy the next book to find out more. More often than not, sub-plots wither on the printed page like an earthworm left on the hot pavement. Sometimes they irritate the reader and distract from the main plot.
Not every book needs a sub-plot. Accept it, especially in books less than 50,000 words. Often a sub-plot feels like filler. Case in point, a crime novel by a seasoned author detailed a gifted FBI team chasing down a dangerous cult. In the beginning of the book, a bank is robbed a by sixteen-year-old bank robber who vows revenge against the FBI agent. The girl is hurt and mentally unbalanced and yet she escapes from FBI agents several times, walks through roadblocks and breaks through security systems. This chick on pain meds is more amazing than Tom Cruise ever was in Mission Impossible. That’s what I don’t buy it. Second, her only purpose is to distract our agent from pursuing the cult.
This doesn’t work because it is too improbable. Things could happen to interfere with him getting to the cult leader, but this doesn’t work in my book and it feels like filler. Another curse of the sub-plot is too many subplots. One potentially fun book veered off into a sub-plot on every character’s life and I do mean all eight characters. That took a fun book and put the brakes on the fun part as I waded through all the friends’ issue to find the main character plot line.
Sub-plots can be like listening to half-drunk strangers talk to you at cocktail parties rambling on about nothing. You wonder what the purpose of the subplot is and work to connect it in your mind and realize on the last page it served no purpose other than to boost the word count. It is rather like the stranger who talked only to hear himself talk and never finished his tale.
I have skimmed books with meaningless sub-plots just to get to the gist of the tale. In the end, a subplot often detracts from the tale instead of adding to it. As a writer, think carefully before chasing after a sub-plot. It may not be as wonderful as you think it is.