Writing tips #3 Poor Subplots

This is the third of 12 posts for Writers who are planning to self-publish using the great services now available to the amateur writer, such as Smashwords, Amazon KDP, CreateSpace etc.

These mistakes are straight from week1 of “Good Writing 101”. You might get away with one or two of them; maybe people won’t notice. But if you consistently break these rules your chances of building a career as an author will be doomed.

3. Poorly constructed subplots

Try not to overstretch the reader’s memory a) with minor character names or b) with subplot story threads. Here’s an example.

Chapter 1 We are told that the main character, Lester, lost his baby sister Sylvia, aged 10, when she was shot by a raider in a convenience store robbery.

Chapter 3 We are told that Lester had a bad time at school at the hands of a bully named Tynan Moss.

Chapters 4 through 11 Lester and his police team investigate two killings that may or may not be connected.

Chapter 12 The sight of one of the victims reminds Lester of the dreadful day when his sister, Sylvia, was shot. He regrets that those raiders were never brought to justice.

Chapters 13 through 57: As the body count rises and the story unfolds, the red herrings are stripped away. It seems more and more likely that the killer has a personal interest in Lester.

Chapter 58 Lester meets Tynan Moss again. Something Moss says suggests that he may have been responsible for Sylvia’s death all those years ago.

By this time the reader has forgotten who Sylvia was; he/she has forgotten that Lester ever had a sister, that Lester and Moss went to school together, or that Moss was a bully.

The storyline is sound enough (if a tad unoriginal) but the thread has not been constructed properly. Sylvia needs to be mentioned occasionally, Moss needs to feature actively in the investigation in some capacity, and their threads need to crop up from time to time in the intervening chapters. The mention of Sylvia in chapter 12 is not enough.


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