Thursday, September 30, 2010


I posted a fortnight ago about the new TV season. Now, two weeks into it, I realized what I love about the show Chuck. The plotting.

The main plot is always some sort of spy story--whodunit, howdunit, howcatchem, whatever. There's always a great moment of epiphany that allows the protagonists to solve the case. We mystery fans LOVE great moments of epiphany. Put in the action, danger and suspense, and that's all you need, right?

But Chuck always has a great comic subplot, too, usually having to with the quirky sidekick, Morgan, and the big box electronics store that's the home base setting for the series. Yes, these comic plots are usually completely off the wall, sometimes bordering on Three Stooges humor, often going off into Get Smart farce. But hey, they make me laugh. And like Shakespearean comedy, they provide relief whenever the main plot and the love story have to get serious.

The love story? An ongoing subplot between the two protagonists, Chuck and Sarah. Several other series characters also have their own subplots. This week, I counted three subplots in addition to the main and comic plots. Five tales, all within 43 minutes of storytelling. And not one of the plots was disappointing or felt like extra weight.

Balancing subplots is a tightrope walk. You have to move from one to the other smoothly. You have to tie up all the extra loose ends created by them. You can't spend too much time on subplots and make the main story weak. One other show last week did just that, trying to catch the viewer up on all the individual character lines, but failing to bind those stories together with a main plot that was suspenseful and satisfying. Even the subplots were anemic in their development.

My Possessed novels each contain a present-day mystery and a historical mystery as main plots, but I'm often asked about the character subplots. Will Pat and Hugh get together? Will Miss Maggie survive her nineties? Will Beth Ann ever become a psychic sleuth in her own right? And since it's fun to give each of my suspect characters a secret, that creates another possible subplots to be resolved. In POISON TO PURGE MELANCHOLY, I actually had to cut one subplot because the book was getting too long.

As a mystery reader, I hate books that are too thin plot-wise (especially if they aren't physically thin). Give me my money's worth. If I slap down fifteen to thirty bucks for a novel, it had better be stuffed full of good stories. I should come away wanting more NOT because the plate served to me was nearly empty. Rather, a great novel ought to be like a yummy dinner with an array of tasty side dishes. If I enjoy every bite, I'll be back.


1 comment:

KK Brees said...

Loved the post. Subplots are what develop characters' personalities, relationships, and give an author time to work out the intricacies of the main plot.


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