A subplot is any secondary plot or storyline that supports the main plot of a novel, play or movie.

A subplot can be used to explore different aspects of the main plot, introduce new characters and themes, or delay the resolution of the main story.

In this way, a subplot can function as a device in a narrative, but it may also be simply decorative.

What Is a subplot

What Is a subplot?

A subplot is a secondary plot that supports the main plot of a book or film. It occurs on the side of the main plot, usually has fewer characters than the main plot, and has its own beginning, middle, and end.

Using subplots can add depth to your story, as they give more depth to your characters while advancing the main plot.

Subplots can also create conflict within your main plot, as well as add suspense.



Subplots are an excellent tool for developing major characters and themes in literature. However, this doesn’t mean you should always use them.

If a novel is too cluttered with subplots, it can seem confusing to readers as it shifts from one part to another. 

There are other reasons you might not want to use subplots in your work:

What Is A Subplot’s Function?

A subplot is a secondary story in a novel. The main plot is the story’s central focus while the subplot provides an additional dimension to the story. 

In a novel, the main plot may concern a romance between the hero and heroine. A subplot may involve another romance, or it may be the means by which the hero and heroine meet.

A subplot in a short story may be a part of the main plot but only have a minimal effect on it. 

A subplot can also be used to help develop an important character in the book. Often, this character will have their own problems to deal with and their own supporting cast of characters.

If they are involved in the story’s main plot as well, it can give insight into how they reacts under pressure or when they are alone with their own thoughts.

When you are writing your novel or short story, start by outlining the main plot of your work.

Then look for ways to incorporate a subplot that will not detract from your work but will add depth to it.

Subplot Definition And Uses

The term subplot is used in many different ways. Sometimes, it’s used to describe a plotline that isn’t as important as the main plotline.

In other cases, it refers to an independent plot that runs parallel to and interweaves with the main plot.

Toward the end of the book, the subplot becomes increasingly more significant, eventually carrying almost as much weight as the main plot.

One way to define a subplot is “a main plot element that is secondary but related to the primary plot of a story.” 

Another way to think about it is “a small story within a larger story.”


Many different elements can be used as a subplot in fiction writing. They can include characters, settings or events that don’t directly relate to the main plot.

An im An important thing to keep in mind is that the subplot should always be subordinate to the primary plot.

In most cases, you’ll use one or two characters for your subplot. 

But when you do, make sure that each character has his or her own motivation and wants something different from the other characters involved in your story.

Subplot Examples

Subplots engage readers by creating tension and suspense for characters who aren’t directly tied to the main plot. and to provide background information on minor characters that may not otherwise have been explored.

A good example of subplots is found in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. The overall plot is the growth and development of the protagonist, Pip, from childhood to adulthood. He moves from poverty to wealth and learns how to handle his new social standing.

In this case, Pip’s primary goal is achieved at the end of the novel. However, along the way there are several subplots involving secondary characters who help to create suspense for Pip’s overall goal and give deeper insight into his character’s development.

Examples Of Subplot In Literature

Subplots are often used to give depth to a story, or to explain events that took place before or after the main plot. A well-written subplot can add complexity and texture to a work.

When considering examples of subplots in literature, it’s helpful to examine how they are used in various works of fiction.

One example is William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. In this tale, a ghost appears early on in the play and warns Hamlet that he will be murdered by his uncle if he doesn’t act quickly.

This subplot eventually becomes intertwined with the main plot when Hamlet becomes convinced that his uncle is responsible for his father’s death.

This leads directly to the final confrontation between Hamlet and his uncle, which ends up killing both men after Hamlet’s mother drinks poison intended for her son.

Examples Of Subplot In Screenwriting

In a novel or short story, subplots are used mainly to develop characters, but in a screenplay, they serve a different function.

Subplots in Screenwriting

Subplots in screenplays serve two important functions:

  1. Giving depth to your characters – Subplots help writers flesh out their characters by giving them something more than just the main story arc.

A character who is only involved in the main plotline is a very flat character because his entire motivation will be tied up with the main conflict.2. Keeping your audience engaged – One of the reasons writers use subplots is to keep their audience engaged during slow parts of the story.

Usually, these are scenes where there isn’t any action going on between two main characters or where one of them isn’t present at all. 


Examples Of Subplot In Film

In order to understand a subplot properly, you need to know who the main characters are, how they are related to each other and what their motives are..

Taken from the Greek word “hypobole” (meaning placing under), subplot refers to a subsidiary plot line that runs parallel to the main plot line of a literary work or film.

In literature, the narrator has an important role to explore both the plot and sub-plot for readers. 

In films, however,  directors have more liberty since they can use various techniques like blending and foreshadowing to make subplots more interesting for viewers.

The Value Of Subplots

When I was in high school I read A Separate Peace by John Knowles. It was a brilliant coming of age story about a teenage boy growing up in the 1940’s and it had a beautiful subplot about World War II.

I loved the novel so much that I chose to write my final exam on it. That’s how important I found the subplot to be.

The Value Of Subplots

There are many different types of subplots. Some add humour to your story like in The Simpsons Movie or The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Others are more action-packed like in The Dark Knight or Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Some are emotional like Pride and Prejudice or The Notebook

Then there are some that act as metaphors for growth, which you can see in Star Wars: A New Hope or Toy Story 3.

What they all have in common is that they add value to the story by deepening the characters, providing conflict and giving them backstory.

How Many Subplots Are In A Film?

How many subplots are in a film?

Every story has three parts to it — the beginning, the middle and the end. In this sense, a film would have to have three separate subplots running through it.

However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t more than three subplots in a movie. In fact, there usually are quite a few.

But how many?

Film makers use subplots to add depth to their movies. Whether it’s showing how two characters relate to each other ( an inter-character plot), or showing how one character relates to himself or herself (intra-character plot). 

Subplots Can Be Used To Show Contrast Or Complement The Main Plot

Film makers use subplots to show contrast or complement the main plot of the movie. 

For example, if the main plot is about a couple’s breakup and divorce, a secondary plot might show how their children deal with it.  

How Do You Find The Subplot?

The subplot is the element of your story that supports the main plot. Its purpose is to clarify, illuminate and enrich the main story. Without it, your story has a weak middle; with it, you have depth and complexity.

The subplot is an extension of the main plot, just as a secondary character adds dimension to your hero or heroine. It could be another romance (a love triangle), another crime (the killer strikes again) or a family problem (how will they pay for the wedding?).

In essence, the subplot reveals more about your main character’s personality by putting him/her in a new situation.

For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet’s romance takes second place when she becomes concerned about her sister Jane’s welfare.

How do you find the subplot?

Every story has at least one subplot — usually three. Sometimes they’re obvious — you’ll know when they turn up.

Sometimes they’re cunningly disguised as the main plot.