Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SUBPLOTS: Touch Blue (post #2)

Hi Heather!

I loved your post on BIG scenes. While I’ve found them challenging to write, I’ve never considered them as something requiring their own special attention. Thanks for the enlightenment!

And speaking of enlightenment, I attended a terrific lecture last week at the Seattle SCBWI monthly lecture series that changed the way I think about subplots. The lecture, titled WHILE THE CENTRAL PLOT SIMMERS: SUBPLOTS AND SECONDARY/SUPPORTING CHARACTERS, was delivered by Wayne Ude, author, and MFA program director for the Whidbey Island Writers Association. Using Pride and Prejudice as his example, Wayne pointed out the ways that subplots complement the main plot, serving as a mirror to the primary action and theme.

Curious to find out more I looked at what Elizabeth George had to say about subplots in her book Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. Interestingly enough, George also mentions Pride and Prejudice, pointing out that while Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s relationship is the main plot of the novel, the other three significant relationships (Jane and Bingley, Charlotte and Mr. Collins, Lydia and Wickham) are, “winkles on the same blanket.”

George summarizes the use of subplots with these words:

Subplots generally rise out of a novel’s theme. As you create your character analyses, you’ll begin to make connections between characters. You’ll discover the similarities in what they’re going through or have gone through. You’ll see a common element that you wish to write about, and this will be your theme. Your subplots will mirror that theme.

Now to tie this subplot discussion into this month’s featured book, Touch Blue.

In an online interview with teenreads Cynthia Lord was asked the questions:

What message do you hope readers will take away after they turn the last page of Touch Blue?

And Lord replied:

Kids today live in all different kinds of families. As Tess says to Aaron, "You can belong in more than one place." I want readers to end Touch Blue with a sense of hope that no matter where you lay your head at night, you always belong to all the people you love and all the people who love you.

Belonging and not belonging is a recurrent theme in Lord’s novel. The main plot is Tess’s story. She very much belongs in her tight knit island community, but may lose that connection if her family is forced to move. Aaron’s successful integration into the community is key to Tess achieving her desire—staying put.

Aaron’s quest to leave the island is a subplot that mirrors the main plot. He wants to leave Bethsaida and return to his mother. His reason for wishing to leave, the theme of his subplot, is the same as Tess’s reason for wishing to stay on the island—they are each trying desperately to be in the place where they feel they belong.

Elizabeth George says about subplots, “If they don’t mirror the theme, they will not fit easily into the world of the novel and they will go clunk each time you’re writing them till you finally decide to cut them out altogether.” (63)

The take away for writers is this: If you find that your subplots feel false, consider whether or not they mirror the book’s main theme. And if you find that you have a terrific plot but no subplots, make them up! But start by asking yourself what situations you could put your secondary characters into that mirror the main characters greatest desire.

StorySleuths Tip #99: When writing subplots avoid clunkers by allowing the theme of the subplot to mirror that of the story’s main plot.