I got asked to write about plots, subplots, and, in particular, about "the subplot of a love triangle or square or pyramid...or whatever shape you want." So, here we go. Ahem. Let's see here. What do I know about plots or plotting? Not much, considering the fact that I do pantsing, although I did plot my trilogy extensively, but then gave up. Plotting ahead of the story is just not my thing, although the more I meet and talk with wildly successful published authors out there in the wide wild publishing world, I start kneading my brain in wonder, because all of them so far told me that they plot, so I'm thinking, what the fuck is wrong with me then? I should plot too. But here is the thing, I DO plot, only differently. You see, plotting ahead kills the momentum of the story for me. I know how my book will end, but I don't know how it will get there. I write the way I would read somebody else's book, without knowing what happens next. Each morning I wake up, excited, eager to start writing because I want to know who ate whom, or how, or crunched on what bone and sucked on it for how many minutes exactly. Oops, sorry, this is my under-the-bed monsters line, so they are growling at me right now. Anyway. Where was I. Ah, plots. Subplots. Sub-sub-subplots.
Plot is for your main character, subplot for minor ones, sub-subplots for uber-miniscule ones. I'll dish here some kind of a primal knowledge right out of my head. The way I do it, I let my characters take over and demand things they want. Everybody wants something. If your character doesn't want something, you have no story. So, your main character wants something, and she or he goes about getting it. That is your main plot. But there are all these other people she or he (or IT?!?!) meets on the way, and they also want something. Even if it's only some dude sitting across your main character in the subway car, sneezing. Maybe all he wants is to get home, or take a pill to stop his allergies, or knife your character to death because he is secretly a serial killer. Any of these would be subplots. Or maybe he fell in love with your character and is feigning sneezing to get her or his attention. Love from first sight happens, right? It totally does. But now it's up to you as an author to decide, to keep it or not? I typically write my first draft very fast, within 6 weeks (though I recently read how this one awesome gal did it in 12 days, so, well, WOW...). I mostly keep in mind the main wish my character has while writing the first draft (and sometimes it's not even a wish but a feeling), and then other things happen by accident, purely out of my character bumping into people along the way. It's okay. I simply keep those subplot lines open. The first time something happens, I note what that minor character could possibly want, write it on a Post-it note and move on. I know I will develop it in later drafts. The main thing for me is to keep moving forward. So when I'm done writing, I have a whole pile of Post-it notes with all these things my characters want. It's time to do draft 2.
Plot is the spine, subplots are ribs, and sub-sub-subplots, well, finger bones. Okay, the deal is, you can connect your plots or have them run parallel to each other, it doesn't matter. Any approach works, as long as your reader (and you, as a writer) keeps turning the pages. I like mine to intertwine, the writerly despot that I am, forcing them to do it for the fun of it. Because if it won't be fun for me, it won't be fun for my reader. Now, I do this purely by feeling it with my gut, not based on any kind of plotting science or literary knowledge. I read my 1st draft and write down on Post-it notes every single question that pops in my mind. Like, why did this wretch pretended to be a rooster when she really is a chicken? Or, how come this monster under the bed kicked out that other monster claiming he was rancid and refused to wash his socks, when just a page before I wrote an extensive scene of him taking a shower? (And him who, first or second monster?) Stuff like that. When I write it down I note the chapter number and the page number, from a PDF document, so that when I edit, since I edit in Word and page numbers shift, I can go back to the PDF doc and see what the hell I meant. The process is essentially the same you would have when reading a published book. if you stop, that means something is wrong, something is missing, something is not working. Now, I also get feedback from beta readers and do the same, write it all on the notes. Then I plaster all of them on a board in front of me, in order, and as I write the 2nd draft, I keep a small notebook by my side, writing out chapter headings and 1 sentence about what happens. Also, next to it, a list of characters and their wants. By the end of the book they either get what they want or not. It could be as primitive as a bottle of vodka, or as complex as world peace. Whatever it is, note it next to each character and then make sure to close the loop as you write.
Plots are large questions, subplots smaller questions, sub-sub-subplots... well, you got it. Recently the amazing genius star of a writer Chuck Wendig dished on plotting on his blog as asking questions. And I laughed when I read it, because that's exactly how I plot. I simply ask questions and try to answer them by writing a book. So, your main plot is your main question, like, why can't pigs fly? Then there are these smaller questions, like, why can't pigs fall in love for longer than 1 day? Or, in certain cases, 1 hour? Actually, I don't know how long it takes for pigs to mate, but you get the idea. So, there is a reason why you write the book, right? If it's about love, then the main plot is the big love question, and the rest are supporting. Without planning it, your mind will adhere to a certain pattern. The funny thing is, in the 1st draft you don't see it, it all looks like one giant mess. But don't despair. In the 2nd draft you will start seeing patterns, and in the 3rd draft those patterns will become clearer and clearer. You will see distinct plots form themselves (that is, if you write the way I write, pantsing; if you plotted ahead, you will see new subplots develop). Take note of them, attach them to characters, and refresh those notes you did in the next draft. The idea here is, keep doing passes over your story until it's solid. Then stop. It won't be perfect, but you have to stop in order not to get stuck rewriting it forever. I heard many magic numbers from many people. Some do only 2 drafts, plotting everything extensively ahead of the game (Michael Gruber), some do 3 to 5 without plotting (me), some do up to 9 with plotting (Hugh Howey), some don't count drafts as solid passes, working here and there on different parts (Isaac Marion). These are the people I met with and talked about this. How many drafts does it take you? Just curious. I don't know if there is a good number for the amount of drafts you have to do, because it took me only 3 drafts to write ROSEHEAD, but now that I'm writing IRKADURA, I think it might take me 5 or 6 or more, it's very complex.
I hope this rant will move you from the frozen point of fear and will get you going. Just write, write, write, you will start feeling it. And if it feels right, then it is right. There is no right or wrong way to plot. Find your own way, but you will only be able to find it if you write every day. A LOT.