Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Layering VS Subplots

I don't know about you, but the writing jargon sometimes throws me for a loop. Show not tell, plot, panster, characterization, allegory, structure, tension, the black moment, you name it -  it was, and still is, confusing. For a long time I had trouble differentiating between layering and subplot. I don't claim to completely understand them and I struggle with really explaining subplots, but today I hope to break it down for you.


Subplots are rather easy, once you understand how they work. You have your main plot (A), and then have 2 or 3 subplots (B,C,D) Plot A is the main focus of the story.Subplots connect to the main plot, but is a story within itself. It is used to flesh out and deepen a story. They impact the main plot indirectly, bringing about change and contrast to deepen a character and their journey.

Here is an example taken from a blog post by Mary Lynn Mercer. (The whole post is an excellent resource on subplots.

In My Fair Lady, the main plot involves Henry Higgins' passing off Eliza, a cockney flower girl, as a duchess. The "B" story is the secondary plot, or subplot, involving Freddy's courting Eliza. The "C" story, or tertiary subplot, involves Eliza's father becoming respectable.

Subplots are vital in making a story rich and complex, and keeping the reader's interest. It makes the story three dimensional.


 When you move into a home, the house is bare. You have floors and walls. You add furniture to make it comfortable and you add decor to make it feel welcoming. Layering is like the soft touch of decor, making a house a home.

You are layering when you add more descriptive passages to your setting. You layer when you deepen a character, allowing them to share their deepest fears and hurts. Laying involves spicing up dialogue, voicing your character's thoughts, adding more tension, adding a foreshadowing element.

Layering is the icing on the cake, the sprinkles on the cupcake. It's the ketchup to your fries and the ice cream to your cobbler. (I'm hungry, can you tell?) Adding layers gives your story a three dimensional flare.

What are your thoughts on subplots and layering? Have you mastered them? Find them difficult?



Stephanie Faris said...

Great analogy!!! I don't think I've mastered subplots...since I've always written romance (and now children's books), where complicated interwoven substories are discouraged, when I have tried my hand at more complicated books, I get a little stuck!

Pepper said...

Great post, Sherrinda. Another tip - our secondary plots lots of times lead to book #2 in a series ;-)
or at least they do with me

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great idea, Pepper, I can see that now. I mean, I thought of seeding a novel for a series...but hadn't considered that it was the secondary plot that was doing it.
I learned something new, thanks to you Sherrinda. Can I go home now?

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Uh, Mary, I think Pepper was the teacher on that one. ;) I'm not always good at explaining things, and I thought the layering was easier to talk about than the subplot. Actually, the link I provided says it the best. It is very good!

Pepper said...

You're sweet. I have LOTS to learn, as made evident by this weekend :-)
I love the idea of layering, but it's really something you do later on, I think.

I write through the first draft (like putting on your clothes for the day)
and then I accessorize (or ADD the bling)
Clothes first
Then the 'extras'
for me, layering is like that. Get the most important thing done and then go back and layer the skeleton with those extra ideas and plotlines. Figure out which necklace will go best or earrings.
You have the outfit first - THEN the accessories.

Okay - I'm really tired. I just finished spending an entire paragraph on getting dressed.
Somebody PLEASE send me some caffiene.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

And Pepper, you accessorize so very well. ;) We should go shopping together sometime.

Pepper said...

Of course, Sherrinda Daaaahling ;-)

Casey said...

Funny, well not funny, well yes funny that you should talk about this today when I am thinking RIGHT NOW about putting a subplot in my story and what kind of subplot to make my story a bit lighter and more interesting. That is the really hard part about editing right now, not knowing just what really needs to be fixed and what is okay, what needs to go, I have an idea, but not a very strong one and MAN is it frustrating!

Okay, I am rambling, great post thoroughly you, which I adore. Now, when can you write my next post?? Because my one last week I did not like. So don't think this one isn't great. :)

Casey said...

Oh LOL Pepper. :) I just read your comment. Too funny. :D

Linda Kage said...

Thanks so much for the explanation. I never stopped and thought out the different between layering and subplots before, but they really do have different meanings, don't they.

And now...I'm hungry too.

Jessica Nelson said...

Subplots are clear to me, layering is NOT. Someone told me my layering was great but I didn't really know what she meant, or how I did, etc. LOL
Good post though! I get what you're saying about layers, it's just the practical, conscious application of them throws me a bit.