I took a page from J.K. Rowling’s book while writing Northern Knights and used a fictional sport as a subplot because a) I’m a sports fan, and b) I always wanted to write a book where the main cast were athletes. But first, I had to find specific ways to incorporate subplots and at least link them to the story’s main plot.
Coming up with a sport called shotball (think rugby where downfield passing is allowed and soccer nets instead of goal posts) before I even thought of Northern Knights way back in 2009 when the National Football League started to go soft, I knew it was my sport of choice to infuse into the main plot.
How does a story about a colonial revolution in any way make sense to place a sport inside it?
What I did was establish the fact Cain Riscattare and his clique were athletes, and this starts on my book description where the reader knows that while this is an action-packed urban fantasy, Cain’s a college athlete.
It’s right there in black and white.
After not only establishing this in the description but hitting hard on it early in the book along with a few hints that trouble is on the horizon, the reader would come to expect to read a few action-packed sporting chapters.
A Subplot Example
Let’s take the historical fiction route. In Richard Peck’s A Year Down Yonder (yes, I read this book each year) Mary Alice falls for Royce McNabb but the real plot that was established from page one dealt with how she was going to make it through an entire year of country life.
Remember, the year is 1937, so without cell phones, or any luxury we have today if you were far out in the country, you were stuck.
Royce McNabb arrives just before Valentine’s Day and a subplot ensues.
Some can also make the argument that Mary Alice submitting her Newsy Notes to the local newspaper that causes a stir in the small town also qualifies for the subplot.
And you can always have more than one but it must make sense.
If you do take the romantic subplot route, it’s one of the easier ones to infuse with the main plot and many authors will do this, because for one reason or another, if you add romance into your novels they draw a reader’s interest.
It should be no surprise that romance is the bestselling genre on Amazon.
A Second Example
Using my first book, Northern Knights as an example, I stated earlier that shotball was a subplot, but established this at the beginning of the story.
This, in my opinion, is an easier route because the reader expects a subplot. Sometimes if an author infuses a subplot in the middle of the work it might make zero sense to the reader and they can’t wait to get back to reading about the main plot.
I’m sure we’ve all read books like these at least once. Even if the subplot makes sense, introducing it too late can turn a reader off, so by letting the reader know there’s more to the main plot than meets the eye is a great way to pull off the subplot.
It was something I picked up on when writing Northern Knights, where early drafts focused on the main plot before it branched off into shotball, where I realized very early on this made zero sense and the reader would be confused as to why there’s a sport involved, even if the shotball subplot made sense.
How to Pull off Subplots
If you’re adding it in or mentioning it early, explain through dialogue and even through the main plot how the subplot works into the main.
For instance, here’s what pulled off shotball, which readers found compelling:
1. Cain and a few friends’ biggest rivals since high school played for the Santos Knights’ main rival, the Leistung Monarchs.
2. These rivals were mentioned earlier and established as primary antagonists later.
3. Through dialogue, the reader understands that the sport of shotball is like American football in the US, soccer in most of the world, and rugby in countries like Wales. In other words, it’s a big deal.
Again, the reader realizes Cain’s a college athlete in the book description and it’s reinforced early in the first chapter.
But what if you’re adding a subplot later in the work?
All you have to do is to let it infuse right into your text.
For instance, in A Year Down Yonder, Royce McNabb arrives as a new student who Mary Alice takes notice of. You know as a reader this is going to evolve.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rita Skeeter becomes a major subplot, and again she comes in as she’s reporting on the first Triwizard Tournament happening after a long layoff. It makes sense to the reader that a reporter from the media is coming in to cover the event.
This is one of my favorite subplots because it’s Rowling’s way of showing how slanted mainstream media can be at times, so reading this subplot has always been satisfying.
Always remember, the subplot must fuse with the main plot. If it doesn’t, leave it out of the story.
I like subplots that give the reader a break from the tension, yet still holds true to the story you’re telling as if it’s something that’s worth saying.
Given Cain’s rivalry with another clique that dates back to before his college days and how they become primary antagonists in Northern Knights has allowed my readers to look forward to shotball matchups against the rivals, knowing such a rivalry will move the main plot along.
But it still gets rid of the tension for a chapter as what do most of us find in sports?
You won’t believe how many people watch sports simply for entertainment. While some of us have niche websites based on sports while others analyze and break down each game, the majority find sports to be entertaining and nothing more.
So, implement your subplots to add more interest to your story and reinforce the main plot. Either cue the reader in early or add them in a way that makes sense to the author, the plot itself, and the reader.