What most people do is they get a good idea and start writing. Then their story runs out of team around page 60 and they don’t know what to do. The first solution is to pad the story with more stuff, which weakens the overall story. The better solution is to use subplots.
A subplot is just a mini-story embedded inside your main story. Every movie has subplots because it’s impossible to stretch your main story to two hours and still maintain interest.
The basic storyline behind “Die Hard” is Bruce Willis fighting the terrorists, but there’s only so much you can show of Bruce Willis shooting and running from the terrorists. That’s what bad movies do. Instead of developing a deeper story, they just pile on more action until it becomes senseless and pointless.
Instead of stringing out the monotony of your main story for two hours, break it up into chunks by using subplots. The first subplot involves your hero’s relationship to a mentor. The second subplot involves your hero’s relationship to an ally. A third subplot involves your villain’s relationship with his henchmen.
Subplot #1: The hero and the mentor
Every hero needs to learn a lesson or skill to overcome his fatal flaw that’s holding him back. This subplot should focus on the mentor teaching the hero something that will help him overcome the villain later.
In “Star Wars,” this subplot involves Obi-wan showing Luke a light saber for the first time, then using the light saber in the bar to cut someone in half. Finally, we see the Obi-wan showing Luke how to use the light saber while onboard the Millennium Falcon.
This subplot simply shows the progression of the mentor’s relationship to the hero and the hero’s gradual learning of a lesson.
Subplot #2: The hero and the ally
Every hero has allies who help him out. In “Star Wars,” Luke has Hans. This subplot shows how the hero and his ally meet, how they help each other, and how the hero ultimately helps his ally change.
In “Star Wars,” Luke’s selflessness towards the rebels helps convince Hans to change his mind at the end and come back to save Luke from Darth Vader.
Subplot #3: The villain and his henchmen
Just as the hero has allies, so does the villain have henchmen who aid the villain in pursuit of his goal. However, the villain often has disagreements with his henchmen, and this forms a minor subplot of your story as well, giving your villain a more multi-dimensional appearance.
In “Star Was,” Darth Vader is dealing with his generals who support him, but have different ideas for accomplishing their goals. At one point, Darth Vader uses the Force to choke a general.
This minor subplot between the villain and the henchmen simply shows that the villain has to deal with his own problems in pursuit of his goal, and these minor problems show us the relationship between the villain and his henchmen so we get to better know how the henchmen can also threaten the hero.
In “Die Hard,” Bruce Willis has killed one of the terrorist’s brother, who now swears to get revenge against Bruce Willis. The main villain has to keep reigning in this vengeful terrorist, which allows us to see more of the danger facing the hero.
By adding subplots to your story, you strengthen your story without having to stretch and dilute your main story. To avoid making your subplots distract from your main story, your subplots should support your main story. One way to do this is to give your hero’s ally a similar goal as your hero.
In “Star Wars,” Luke needs to gain more confidence in himself to defeat the Death Star. Luke’s ally, Hans Solo, needs to look less at money and more at what’s right to improve his life. Through Luke’s interaction with Hans, Hans changes just like Luke changes, and both of their changes are crucial in defeating the Death Star.
Subplots are a way to strengthen your main story. Use them to make your main story more interesting and compelling.