Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Bomb in the Body

Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of thirty-five novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill and Summerside Press. A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Book of the Year. She is also the founder ofwww.MyBookTherapy.com, a crafting and coaching community for writers.
A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com

The Bomb in the Body: A lesson on Subplots

Okay, raise your hand out there if you watch Grey’s Anatomy. It’s okay, no one can see you. And, not like I’m raising MY hand or anything, but hypothetically, let’s just say that if you are familiar with this particular medical (and I’m using that term a bit freely) drama, then you know that it is really a big long soap opera. Grey’s Anatomy is, essentially, the on again, off again, now on (they’re sort of married, so I think it will stick) romance of Dr. Derrick McDreamy and Dr. Meredith Grey. Inside all this romance are the daily (read: episodic) events of a hospital in Seattle.

What makes Grey’s fun are the running monologues of the lead heroine, the thematic nuances she puts into the story, usually centered around the events of the episode, but also alluding to her current state of relationship with Derrick. One could say that the episode theme relates to the overall story arc of the series.

Episodes in a show like this act at subplots to the main story. They are by subplot definition: Short, but concise stories that reveal theme, and taken alone, would stand on their own merit.

Let’s take one of my favorites (er, I mean, one that I’ve heard about…oh, forget it, I’m a Grey’s addict. I admit it). ..the Bomb in the Body episode. (Also had Kyle Friday Night Lights guy (formerly Early Edition) guest starring, and I just love him). The subplot starts with the inciting incident: a fella comes in with a hole in his gut. A paramedic is holding onto the bleeding inside his body. 

Conflict: If she takes her hand out, then he’ll bleed to death, so they have to take them up to surgery. Further conflict: Wife comes in and reveals that the man was playing with a bazooka and there is an unexploded bomb in his body. More conflict: Paramedic freaks out, pulls her hand from his body, wherein Dr. Grey takes her place.

Of course, Meredith is doomed, and the rest of the show is her wishing that she could turn back time and rethink where she is right now.

Meanwhile, in the BIG plot, Derrick, the Dr. and she have had an affair, and she’s in love with him UNTIL just a few weeks prior his WIFE (and poor Meredith didn’t even know she existed until then) shows up. (again this is rather old, if you follow the plot, but such a good example I had to use it.) Derrick wants a divorce…he thinks. But, maybe not, so he decides to give his marriage another chance.

Meredith’s heart is broken. She wishes she could turn back time and rethink her life.  See the parallel?
Of course, they get the bomb out of the body, and sadly, as cute Kyle walks away with it, it blows up. He’s vaporized. And Meredith is left with blood all over her, a casualty of another person’s errors in judgment. Of course, the patient who wreaked all this havoc, lives.

Again, see the parallel to the main story arc?

A great subplot is about mirroring the theme of the main plot. It can either enhance it – i.e., show what could happen if one choice is made, or put it in relief – show what will happen if that choice isn’t made. It can be a testing ground for “what if.”

I employ subplots frequently in a large (90K+) novel because of the depth they bring to the main storyline. In the Shadow of Your Smile (Tyndale) out last month, the subplot between the son and daughter of two of the main characters allows me to reach a wider audience and actually add a “romance” into the story (as opposed to a “love story” thread that embodies the bulk of the book).

Subplots can also launch your next story. In Baroness (Summerside, hitting bookstores any day), the subplot actually serves as the backstory for the story I’m writing right now – Duchess. The heroine in Baroness, Rosie Worth, has a smaller storyline, but it’s profound enough that I could carry her over into her own book.

The biggest subplot I’ve ever written is the subplot within a subplot I put into Taming Rafe (Tyndale, a few years ago). In the novel, a love story written by one of the characters reveals the feelings that character has for a woman he’s never declared his love to, written via the romance of the characters in HIS book, a book that the POV characters in Rafe all read. (Okay, did that make sense? Basically, it’s a story within a story that tells declares his love for her via the characters.) It is a fun subplot because the reader essentially gets three romances in one story.

A lot of bang for their buck.

As you’re developing your subplot, ask yourself – what lesson will the characters in my main plot learn? Is there a smaller lesson, or a piece of that lesson I can illuminate through the subplot?
Remember, a subplot has to have all the elements of a story: Inciting incident, conflict, black moment, epiphany and a climatic ending.

Here’s a hint – a good subplot should start after you’ve establish the main character, perhaps in chapter two or three. And, you should tie up the threads of your subplot before you get into the finale of your main plot. To keep the subplot flowing, I usually put in one subplot pov per every 4-5 main POVS. That way I don’t overwhelm the main plot.

If you want a deeper, wider story, try inserting a subplot. You’ll be giving your reader more for their money, and create characters you might even use for book 2!

Thank you Novel Rocket for allowing me to stop by! Can I put in a shameless plug for our membership site? If you are an aspiring author, check out MBT (www.mybooktherapy.com/join-the-team). Or reader our blogs (AFTER you read Novel Rocket, of course) at www.mybooktherapy.com to get your daily dose of writing craft.

Have a great writing day!
Susie May Warren


Coming of age in the turbulent Roaring Twenties, two daughters of fortune can have anything they possibly want—except freedom. 

Expected to marry well and take the reins of the family empire, Lilly and Rosie have their entire lives planned out for them. But Lilly longs to flee the confines of New York City for the untamed wilds of Montana. Her cousin Rosie dreams of the bright lights of the newly emerging silver screen. Following their dreams—to avant-garde France, to dazzling Broadway, to the skies of the fearless wing walkers—will demand all their courage. 

When forced to decide, will Lilly and Rosie truly be able to abandon lives of ease and luxury for the love and adventure that beckons? At what cost will each daughter of fortune find her true love and a happy ending? 


Ane Mulligan said...

What a great post!! Thanks, Susan! You always have the best advice. :)

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Great thoughts on subplots. It's so great when one of those side plots spills over into the next book!

Beth K. Vogt said...

Great post, Susie!
I've only seen one episode of Grey's Anatomy -- really. And it was the first half of that episode. Really. Just the first half. I had to call a friend and ask her what happened.
And it was through Susie and MBT that I learned the difference between subplots and layers and how to utilize them.
Good stuff.

Jodi Janz said...

Hi Susie, great to see you over here at Novel Rocket! I have never seen Grey's Anatomy but heard lots about it. I like movies that have deep subplots and now that I am writing I see how challenging it is to make them work well.
That's what I like about your books.

Thanks for visiting.