Monday, April 23, 2012

Plots, Subplots, and Foreshadowing

Here are, yet, more of my notes from LTUE. These are from a panel on plotting, subplotting, and foreshadowing. I tend to have too many subplots so this was helpful in figuring out how to narrow it down for me. Hopefully some aspect of it will help you with plotting too. The authors on the panel were Bree Despain, James Owen, Scott Savage, Brandon Sanderson, and Stacy Whitman.

Stacy Whitman and Karen Sandler
Brandon Sanderson

Bree Despain

Minor subplots—need to be pulled together and relate to the large plot. All characters should have lives before the story. They need to have passions unrelated to the real plot. Having them care about other things rounds out and makes characters real.

Things to juggle—You don't just want filler chapters. You want multiple plotlines in between.
Scott Savage

How do you have subplots to support your main plot? They are running threads throughout that make your character stronger. Look for integration and complexity of plot and character.

Plot (Epic fantasy)—End of an era. Survive.

How many subplots is too many and how do you know? Read, read, read in the genre to which you aspire to write to get an idea of how many subplots are usual for that genre. Keep an eye out for adding anything new in the last quarter of your book, which undermines the focus of the last quarter of your book.

Layer subplots—so the book can be read at different levels. (e.g., use references alluding to other books.)

Don't have so many characters that your story becomes diluted.

Subjects—just like main plots have to have a beginning, middle, and end, if you start something, you have to follow it through, especially in a series. You have to tie it all up.

YA watchword—When pitching a book or series to an editor, say it's a stand alone with a series potential.

Start outlining books 2 and 3 and think of things you may need to outline.

Writing process—do a 1 page outline (1 sheet/yellow legal pad) of the character's trip or journey. Stops along the way are plot points. For side trips you have to come back to the main destination. You can use pictures or images for each chapter.

Where do subplots come from? They come from the character's dreams or passions. They cast people in roles. Write the first chapter. Throw it away and rewrite it. For the over arching plot have a strict outline.

Foreshadowing—drop something in here and there and have someone mention something. Make the reader accept the story along the way. You need to lay the groundwork and have enough clues, but not make it obvious, so that it's surprising, yet inevitable. Get the reader really interested in something that's coming up. Be a story magician and distract them. Surprising the reader in a way that makes them say, "Oh, I should have seen that coming," is tricky. Give them little bread crumbs.

Difference between idea and plot—plot is the main character's major goal and obstacles and consequences for failure.

How do you keep from giving away too much? Use a red herring that never pans out, another thing that pans out, and something that has a twist. With 1st person it's easy to keep secrets with an unreliable narrator. In 3rd person, stay out of the head of the person with a secret. Just have them not think about it because it's too traumatic.

So what are some your plotting tips or things that have helped you with plotting?


  1. This sounds very interesting. I've read a few books on novel writing that helped lay out subplots and pacing - all very useful info.

    Good luck with your writing.

  2. This was so good to hear again! Especially the part about all characters having lives before the story, I feel like that's so important. Thanks for taking such good notes.