Subplots--What's the Magic Number?

Is there a general rule of thumb for how many subplots should be in a novel? How many are too few? Too many?

You want enough to keep your story interesting, but not so many that the reader can't remember what's going on with who. How's that for a definitive answer?

I'm gonna' go out on a limb and really commit myself here and say between two and ten. Part of it depends on how complex your main plot is; how complex the subplots; whether the subplots are needed to move the story forward (good), or if their main function is to add pages (bad); if the subplots involved the main characters or side characters; etc. etc.

Here's my general rule--if I'm bored, it needs more complexity, which can be provided by subplots. If I have to read with a pencil and paper to keep all the characters and plots straight, then you've got too many.


Josi said...

From the girl that tends to horribly over-conflict her characters, ask yourself the following questions when introducing a sub-plot a) is it somehow related to the main plot--I believe it should be, otherwise it feels like you're trying to tell more than one story b) is it absolutely necessary. If it's not necessary or doesn't relate to the main conflict, tweak it so it does. I end up cutting sub-plot all the time because I'm trying too hard to make it dramatic and it's overwhelming to the reader. Good luck.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Just adding my two cents here (because that's what I do) Josi makes a great point. All your subplots need to have a purpose. I've often read a book with several plotlines taking place at the same time only to get to the end and wonder why half of them were even in there in the first place. Give them a purpose!