Image courtesy of Meg
Nearly all novels have main characters and a central plot or theme, but many stories also contain multiple subplots and a range of minor characters as well. Each of these elements may be viewed as a thread, of sorts, that is woven throughout the tale. It is the job of the author to take all of these various threads and skillfully weave them into one, smooth, flawless tale that rises to a satisfying conclusion.
Sometimes, when I feel like my plot is too simple, however, my first response is to add more subplots. It’s not that subplots are a bad thing, necessarily. In fact, subplots oftentimes lend a feeling of life to the story. In mystery novels, subplots can be downright essential even. Just as a magician may use slight of hand or a pretty assistant to distract the viewers from what he is really doing, mystery writers often use subplots to draw the readers’ attention away from the true killer. They might throw out several false leads in order to make other characters look guilty instead. However, tacking more subplots onto the central plot can sometimes create more problems than it solves.
How so? Quite simply, the more subplots you chose to use, the more you must resolve. And as always, there is a notable difference between quantity and quality. In the case of mystery writing, throwing out false leads is a viable technique, but I think it’s a mark of real talent—the proof of a good writer—if the author can successfully tie up all of the threads in the end. This goes for the false leads and all of the other distractions too. J. K. Rowling is a master at this. In her Harry Potter series, everything matters—even the most minute of details, even the distractions and false leads. People and places don’t just show up once and then fade into oblivion. Rather, they always come back, they always tie in and are always important, and all of this results in a spell-binding attention-gripping story.
Furthermore, when you have so many threads, it’s difficult to keep track of them. When it’s difficult to keep track of them, it’s easy to lose track of them. And when you lose track of your threads, it’s often horrendously easy for readers to find loopholes in your story and unravel all of your hard work. All in all: not good, mate.
It’s like walking into an art museum and seeing a picture of a flower, except you can’t really tell it’s a flower because it’s nearly obscured by a muddy rain boot, which is next to a porcupine, which is holding a banana. Ultimately, you hardly even notice the flower because you are still busy wondering what on earth a banana has to do with anything, and you leave frustrated and confused. This relates to all of those false leads in the mystery novel. At first, the reader doesn’t question them because they are so excited to finally know the identity of the real killer. Yet when they think back on the rest of the story, they are bound to remember all of those false leads that never amounted to anything, and instead of reveling in satisfaction, they are left wondering what Great Aunt Bertha had to do with anything in the first place. You want writing details and scenery, but you don’t want the ascetics to be so deafening that they drown out the real story.
We must choose our threads wisely and focus on deeper instead of wider. Instead of making our story fat and wide with colorful but irrelevant details, let’s make our tales deeper by tying everything together intricately so that every detail plays an important role and that each has a deeper meaning in the end. Even then, it can still be difficult keeping track of all of the threads. Successfully tying them all together can be quite the challenge indeed.
So how do you keep track of all your threads? When Christopher Nolan was writing Inception, he knew he would be dealing with a veritable tangle of threads, but he didn’t want to end up leaving any ends forgotten or untied. He didn’t want any left-over loopholes. So, he drew a map of Inception to keep it all straight in his head.
Map of Inception, by Christopher Nolan
All of this said, we may be weavers of threads, but we must do it skillfully. If we don’t tie off our ends, our stories can fray and be unraveled. And sometimes, less can truly be more after all.
Hannah Lokos is a writer and a full-time college student. Her novel, a unique piece of historical fiction that combines romance with Greek mythology and conspiracy theory, is scheduled for release by Champagne Book Group in early December. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or visit her website www.hannahlokos.com.