Understanding Subplots: Definition, Examples, and Importance
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What are Subplots?
  2. How to Identify Subplots
  3. Examples of Subplots in Literature
  4. How to Create Engaging Subplots
  5. Why are Subplots Important?

Whether you're an avid reader or a budding writer, you've probably come across the term 'subplot' before. But what exactly does it mean? Well, you're in luck! This blog post is all about understanding the definition of subplot, with a sprinkle of examples and a dash of their importance in creating a rich, engaging narrative.

What are Subplots?

Subplots, in a nutshell, are the side stories that complement the main plot of a novel, play, or any other form of literature. They add depth and complexity to the narrative, making the story more interesting and relatable. Now, let's break it down a bit more.

The Definition of Subplot

Think of the main plot as the heart of a story, pumping life into the narrative. The subplot, then, is like the veins, carrying that life throughout the whole body of the story. The definition of subplot is a secondary or supplementary plot, which unfolds side by side with the main plot. While it's not the primary focus, it's still an important part of the narrative.

Characteristics of Subplots

  • Supportive: One of the key traits of a subplot is that it supports the main plot. It adds layers and depth to the primary narrative, providing additional information or context.
  • Independent yet Interconnected: While a subplot has its own storyline, it's not completely detached from the main plot. It usually intersects with or influences the main storyline in some way.
  • Varied Themes: Subplots often explore themes or aspects different from those in the main plot, offering a more rounded view of the story world.

Types of Subplots

Subplots can come in different forms. You might find a character subplot that delves into a character's personal journey, or a thematic subplot that highlights a particular theme. There's also the action subplot that focuses on a specific event or series of events. Regardless of the type, each subplot contributes to the overall narrative in its unique way.

Now, you have a clearer understanding of the definition of subplot. But how do you identify them in a story? Read on as we explore how to spot these narrative gems.

How to Identify Subplots

Identifying subplots might seem like finding a needle in a haystack, especially if you're new to the concept. But fear not! Here are some tips to help you spot these narrative nuggets when embarking on your literary journey.

Look Beyond the Main Storyline

Remember, a subplot isn't the main event—it's the sideshow that adds flavor to the main course. If you're trying to identify a subplot, look beyond the primary story. This might be a side character's journey, an ongoing theme, or any other narrative thread that isn't the main focus but still contributes to the overall story.

Identify Interconnected Yet Independent Storylines

Subplots have a unique quality: they're both independent and interconnected. They have their own storyline that can stand on its own, yet they also influence or intersect with the main plot. If you notice a narrative thread that seems to have its own arc but still ties into the main story, you might have found a subplot!

Watch for Recurring Themes or Characters

  • Recurring Themes: If you notice a certain theme or issue consistently popping up alongside the main plot, it might be a thematic subplot. For example, a story about a detective solving a mystery (main plot) might also consistently address the theme of justice (subplot).
  • Recurring Characters: A character who consistently appears and has their own narrative arc apart from the main character might be the center of a character subplot. They might not take center stage, but their story still adds depth to the overall narrative.

In essence, identifying subplots involves a bit of detective work—you're looking for the narratives hiding in the shadows of the main plot. But once you know what to look for, you'll start seeing subplots everywhere!

Examples of Subplots in Literature

Nothing cements a new concept like good, solid examples. With that said, let's dive into some great examples of subplots in literature to help you better understand this narrative device.

Romeo and Juliet - The Feuding Families

In Shakespeare's famous tragedy, the main plot revolves around the doomed love story of Romeo and Juliet. However, there's a constant subplot simmering beneath the surface—the feud between the Capulets and Montagues. This subplot amplifies the main story's tension and ultimately dictates its tragic ending.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Boo Radley's Story

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird primarily focuses on the trial of Tom Robinson. Yet, there's a subplot featuring the mysterious character of Boo Radley. This subplot, while not directly tied to the main plot, adds depth to the narrative and culminates in a key event at the end of the novel.

Harry Potter Series – The House Cup Competition

In the Harry Potter series, the main plot follows Harry's journey as a wizard and his battle against Voldemort. But the House Cup competition, a subplot in the series, provides additional tension, rivalry, and camaraderie among the characters, enriching the overall story.

These examples highlight the variety of subplots that can exist in literature. They can be dramatic, like in Romeo and Juliet, mysterious, like in To Kill a Mockingbird, or competitive, like in Harry Potter. But in each case, they add depth, tension, and richness to the main plot.

How to Create Engaging Subplots

Now that we've looked at some examples, let's get to the fun part—creating your own engaging subplots. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started.

Ensure the Subplot Supports the Main Plot

First and foremost, your subplot should serve the main plot in some way. It could echo the main plot's theme, highlight its conflicts, or simply provide a break from the main story. However, it should always feel connected and not like an unrelated side story.

Give Your Subplot its Own Arc

Just like the main plot, your subplot should have its own beginning, middle, and end. This gives it a clear structure and ensures it feels like a complete story within the larger narrative. It should have its own conflicts and resolutions, just on a smaller scale.

Use Your Subplot to Develop Characters

Subplots are a fantastic way to reveal more about your characters. You can use them to explore your characters' backstories, relationships, or personal growth. This can make your characters feel more real and relatable to your readers.

Keep the Subplot Interesting

Finally, make sure your subplot is interesting! It should be just as engaging as the main plot. After all, a boring subplot can drag down the pacing of your story. So, don't be afraid to get creative and take some risks with your subplot.

Creating engaging subplots can be a challenge, but with these tips, you're well on your way to adding depth and richness to your narratives. Remember, the goal is not to distract from the main plot, but to enhance it. Happy writing!

Why are Subplots Important?

So, we've defined subplots, given examples, and even dished out tips on how to create them. But you might still be wondering, why go through all the trouble? What makes subplots so important, anyway?

Subplots Add Depth to Your Story

Subplots can add an extra layer of depth to your narrative. They allow you to explore different aspects of your story world, give more context to your main plot, or delve into the lives of your secondary characters. This can make your story feel richer and more immersive.

Subplots Enhance Character Development

As mentioned earlier, subplots are an excellent tool for character development. They give your characters a chance to grow and change outside of the main plot's constraints. Doing so can add realism and relatability to your characters, making your readers more invested in their journeys.

Subplots Improve Pacing

Subplots can also help with your story's pacing. They can provide a break from the main plot's tension, allowing your readers to catch their breath before diving back into the main action. This can create a more balanced and enjoyable reading experience.

Subplots Build Anticipation

Lastly, subplots can be used to build anticipation. They can plant seeds for future plot points, create suspense, or set the stage for a big reveal. This can keep your readers hooked and eager to turn the page.

In conclusion, subplots play a vital role in storytelling. They add complexity, enhance character development, and improve the overall reader experience. So, next time you're crafting a narrative, don't forget to consider the potential power of the humble subplot.

If you're looking to enhance your understanding of subplots and take your scriptwriting skills to the next level, make sure to check out Jessy Moussallem's workshop, 'Scriptwriting.' This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and techniques to create compelling subplots and build a strong narrative for your scripts.