How to Write a Novel: Step 11


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What is a subplot?

A subplot is a supporting plot that comes secondary to the main thrust of the story. It usually revolves around a relationship of the main characters, or the arc or a supporting character, but can also include backstory and exposition.

For example, in the Hunger Games, the main plot is Katniss’s battle for survival in the Hunger Games arena, but the main subplot is her relationship with Peeta and her relationship with Rue is another major subplot.

Why are subplots used in novels?

Subplots can make or break a novel, as they add depth and texture to the main story, and make the world feel more authentic and three dimensional.

What is the difference between a central plot and a subplot?

The central plot is the story of the protagonist’s pursuit of their main goal. It follows the challenges that character faces and how they evolve as a person between the first and last chapters.

Subplots are all secondary storylines that take place in the book, including romance and other relationships, the arcs of other characters, backstory and exposition.

How does the subplot affect the main plot?

Subplots should never overshadow the main plot. If you find this is happening, it may be that your subplot is more compelling than your main plot and perhaps it needs to be promoted to main plot.

Subplots should feed into, and support the main plot. Skilled storytellers will ensure subplots weave in and out of the main plot in a seamless way that means the main plot would fall apart without them.

As well as supporting the plot in a concrete way, with plot points and character development, subplots should support the main thrust of the story in a thematic way. For example if the main theme of the story is about a character’s craving for power, then the romance subplot should also be affected in some way by the interplays and effects of power.

What is an example of a subplot?


If you’re writing a romance, then that will be the main plot, not the subplot. However, a romance between the protagonist and another character (or two) is one of the most common subplots in all genres.

Other relationships

Another rich source of subplots is the relationship between the main character and other characters. It could be the troubled marriage, strained relationship with daughter, son or best friend or a challenging boss or colleague.

Other character’s arcs

Supporting characters, including antagonists, can have their own goals, obstacles, successes and failures.


Subplots can be used to share backstory which can help readers build empathy with the main characters and understand their behaviour better.


Subplots can be used to present key plot information which drives the story forward or helps glue it together. Subplots might follow a particular object or series of clues.

Your Task

In the Novel Factory Online, go to the Subplot Manager.

Click 'Add subplot'. In the popup window, give your subplot a title and a colour. If you already know some of the subplot points, you can add them now. Otherwise, click 'Add'.

The subplot will be created as a vertical tower. To add a subplot point, click the plus symbol that appears when you hover over the line.

Subplot items can be dragged up and down to different scenes as your plot develops.

There are no hard and fast rules about what constitutes a subplot or subplot item, it’s really up to you to use in the way you find most helpful.

Or, if you're not using the software, use your own methods for creating and tracking subplots, such as excel, or a whiteboard.

This article is available in video format!