Supportive Plots -- by Jane Kelley

Hey, everybody! I've decided to change a name.

From this point on, I will not call them "subplots." Sub has so many unfortunate connotations. Subpar. Subhuman. Subordinate.

Labeling those plots as "less than" encouraged me to skip over them as I write. My Main Plot was, after all, my MAIN plot. As I focused on it, I ignored the wants and actions of the other characters. Then everything suffered.

The famous theatre director Konstantin Stanislavski said, "There are no small parts, there are only small actors." That sentence has been used to comfort those of us who didn't get the starring role. It has a deeper truth. For a drama to work, everyone on stage must be a complete character. The smaller part is actually a bigger challenge. Despite fewer lines and fewer moments on stage, that actor must still make the character compelling enough to hold their own against the star.

In other words, the smaller part demands more attention from the writer. Not less.

As I rewrite a novel, I asked myself why the protagonist's best friend would do what my main plot needed her to do. And when I found the answer, I had another plot. One that, as I said, I'm calling the Supportive Plot. Because it supports the other action––and enhances it.

Mary Nohl's sculptures outside her home in Fox Point, Wisconsin
Mary Nohl was an artist who created many large outdoor pieces out of concrete. Her training was not in construction, however. As she made the sculpture above, she discovered that the dinosaur was leaning. Luckily necessity was once again the mother of invention. Mary added the other fellow. The two seem quite delighted to be connected. Think how much more interesting the artwork is because of the addition.

And think how much better my novel will be because of the supportive plots!


  1. Without support where would we - or our character - be?

  2. I love this! Love the new terminology - love the reminder that these supportive plots are CRUCIAL - and love the photo!


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