Purple Prose + Writing

Enriching Your Story

As writers, our goal is to create stories with intricately woven layers that keep the reader on the edge of her seat. But how do you do that?

In his non-fiction book, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (which I highly recommend), Donald Maass talks about the plot layer and the subplot. The plot layer is specific to the main character; whereas, the subplot is specific to the secondary characters. Yep, that was news to me, too.

Ideally, your main character has more than one plot layer. The more the better. So if you only have two, you’d better start brainstorming for some more. One will, of course, be the main story problem. Others, for example, could deal with the romantic storyline and the storylines dealing with the interactions between your main character and various family members, friends, teachers.

Because all our characters are dimensional (right?), each has their own interests, values, secrets, etc. Maybe the potential love interest is training hard to make the high school swim team. Great. As long as his goal somehow interconnects with the main character’s story. And if it somehow interconnects with other secondary characters’ stories, too, even better.

This means the more you know about your characters before you start the first draft, the easier it will be to make sure you have enough plot layers, and that your plot layers and subplots interconnect in as many ways as possible. Even if you’re a panster, it’s worth it to brainstorm first to make sure your story is as rich as possible before you start writing. It will mean fewer headaches down the line—even if you haven’t fully developed each plot layer and subplot beforehand.

Another thing you can do is analyze the novel you’re working on, and see if there are any subplots or plot layers that can be removed without damaging your story tapestry. If the answer is yes, then it hasn’t been woven into the story and is probably unnecessary.

Be sure to check out the exercises in the workbook. They really are worth taking the time to do no matter where you are in the writing process (preplanning, first draft, later revisions).

Note: I’m not getting any compensation for this. But you know, Donald, a ms request would be nice. I’m just saying, yanno. ;)

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Enriching Your Story + Writing