Part 1 in the series, “The Function of Subplots in Fiction”
If you were to tell your life story in a basic, linear manner, it would be predictable and boring. You’d say something along the lines of, “I was born in Detroit, where I went to school until I was ten, then my folks moved to Bay City, where I lived until I finished college, then I went into the army for two years, came out, got married, went to graduate school, had two kids, got a job teaching, and today I’m a grandfather.”
In real life we get sideswiped by numerous unexpected events. The above vignette is actually my life story in one sentence. However, what would make it far more interesting would be the subplots in my life—I got a job as a young reporter and landed an interview with Johnny Cash…I was wounded in the face during the Vietnam War…my daughter was born with a complete heart block and remained for twelve days in intensive care…my son became a Marine and spent eight months in Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Desert Shield…I earned a PhD and wrote more than fifty-five books.
That is the function of subplots in a novel. They offer unexpected twists. They provide moral lessons about perseverance or faith or endurance. They pivot the action from a steady flow of events to a radically unexpected—but totally believable—new event. In short, they add more intrigue to a story, and they are accepted by readers, because that is the way life actually does unfold.
Next week, “Subplots Can Enhance Main Characters”
Dennis E. Hensley, PhD, is director of the professional writing department at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, and an annual judge for the Evangelical Press Association Awards and the Christy Fiction Awards. His 54 books include:
- Jesus in the 9 to 5: Facing the Challenges of Today’s Business World
- How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It
- Man to Man: Becoming the Believer God Called You to Be
- More Than Meets the Eye: Finding an Extraordinary God in Ordinary Life
- Alpha Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours
- Surprises and Miracles of the Season: Devotions for Christmas and New Year’s
- The Power of Positive Productivity
© 2015 by Dennis E. Hensley. All rights reserved.