Subplots. Themes. The amalgam of every side story and secondary character can become a beautiful and multilayered work of art that carries readers through a story with ease – or it can devolve into a nasty mess of confusing or ill-developed themes and forgettable characters. Yikes!
Last week I wrote about the topic of theme, which I’m expounding upon now as I transition to the deeper layers of subplot, which many writers (myself included) are often intimidated by. Learning how to take terms like “Love,” “Retribution,” and “Justice” and expand them into vast subjects of debate and exploration for countless readers is one of the toughest things a writer can ever do. Fortunately, I recently learned of a couple of easy ways to explore all of your thematic elements – and even have fun doing so.
Once again, I’m indebted to Senior Literary Agent and Content Strategist Paula Munier for helping me better grasp the complex web of subplots with relative ease. I just started reading her book Plot Perfect, and the first two chapters center on the ways to go about exploring themes and side plot lines before you pen them. One activity she suggests in identifying the most important themes in your own writing is to create a personal author bubble chart. In it, start by writing your favorite genres in the center circle, then branch out with circles that contain your likes and dislikes, people you’ve loved, your biggest regrets, locations you’re familiar with, and your skills.
Here is my example:
After doing this exercise, I found that I was able to more clearly connect setting, thematic elements, and my characters’ main motives. It seems obvious, but all writers are their own best source of creative material!
Paula also recommends that you make a similar bubble chart in which you identify your story’s main theme in the center, be it “Love,” “Lust,” or “Faith,” and then proceed to label each surrounding circle with a related plot point or thematic element. This activity has become extremely helpful for me as I write the first book in my trilogy, The Virility Project. Given that I have two main characters, around two dozen supporting characters, and almost a dozen subplots planned for this trilogy, it has become super important for me to keep things clear in my own brain before sorting through every aspect of this Pre-Dystopian epic.
Thanks for reading! How do you handle identifying your themes and weaving your subplots together? Comment below and I’ll happily get to chatting with you.