View Full Version : Growth and subplots - are they required?

05-06-2008, 12:37 AM
Hi everyone,

I'm a newbie here. *waves* I'm attempting (attempting being the operative word) to write my first novel. It is going to be a chick lit sort of novel. I'm at the planning stage at the moment.

I was wondering if it is necessary to show growth and/or change in the character. I'm thinking through my plot and I can't easily say how the character changes/grows in any meaningful way. I'm sure that after writing the novel, a progression will be evident, but should I have more idea about this now?

Also, are subplots necessary? I was thinking of Bitter is the New Black, and that doesn't really have any subplots, or maybe I'm just being dim. I have a plot worked out for my novel that I hope is ok, but no subplots. At the same time, I think I should show my main character having friends in order to make things believeable, yet they seem a bit spare part without some sort of storyline for themselves.

I'm waffling a bit here, and I know I'm not being wonderfully clear. I suppose that's because I'm not too clear about things myself. I keep going over my plot and characters, wondering if it's good enough, wondering if things are believeable and will people care.

Anyway, does anyone have any thoughts? Thank you very much.

Danger Jane
05-06-2008, 12:46 AM
Unless the point of your story is that people/situations never change, static characters are likely to bore your readers. You might just need to brainstorm a little harder...think of the events that occur, think of how your character reacts to them, and think about maybe how he could react to show that the events have changed him--you might have to change your outline. Shocking!

Subplots...if your novel is long enough with only a main plot and readers believe in your MC's sparse life, go ahead. But usually, a novel without subplots falls short of normal publishing guidelines, and that makes publication tough.

Don't use your MC's friends as props. They're real people, too, and if you start delving into their lives and your MC's relationships with them, you'll find some extra scenes (and all-important CONFLICT) in there.

Welcome to AW!

05-06-2008, 12:48 AM
Well... my knee-jerk response is "yes." And then "no."

I think you can get away without having your character "grow" (by which I presume you mean "change") if that's the whole point of the character. Most of the time, some sort of growth or change is expected, but every now and then there is that character who doesn't. (And I don't just mean James Bond and his ilk.) But something else in the story should, otherwise it gets really hard to have the story go anywhere.

Which it should. Stories need a beginning, middle and end, even if they all happen in media res and what not. Otherwise you're just spinning your wheels, and no one wants to read that. Or at least not many.

Sub-plots help to provide some of that impetus - say, for example, how minor characters come to grow despite the MC's steadfast refusal to do so. If you don't have any subplot, not even the barest shreds of one, then I'm tempted to say you don't have a novel. You have a short story that's way too long. :)

05-06-2008, 12:50 AM
There are characters who don't change, often the central ones in long-running series. However, I think experience changes most of us in some way and that's probably true of your character too. A story is a change engine. Something needs to be different at the end than it was at the beginning. It's possible that's only some external situation and your character doesn't change. But it's not likely.

05-06-2008, 12:50 AM
I was wondering if it is necessary to show growth and/or change in the character.

In a novel, yes. Unless it's Oblomov or A Fan's Notes or some other case-study of neurosis.

Also, are subplots necessary? I was thinking of Bitter is the New Black, and that doesn't really have any subplots

That's a memoir.

05-06-2008, 01:04 AM
Thanks everyone. You've all been a big help and I really appreciate the advice. Danger Jane - That's exactly it: I don't want to use the MC's friends merely as props. I want them to fit into the novel well in their own right. I am developing characters for them and have the merest smidgen of a subplot for one of them. I'm just struggling to turn it into something meaningful.

Back to the drawing board on a number of counts then!

That's a memoir.
Where's that embarrassed smiley?

05-06-2008, 01:07 AM
My reading of chick-lits tells me that fun and funny friends to the heroine are standard. Or at least fun and funny acquaintances. My reading of chick-lit is also that its heroines tend much more to spunky and resilient than unrelentingly bitter. And they do tend to learn something new about themselves along the way.

Maybe you don't have chick-lit? Maybe a darker form of women's lit?

I think subplots should grow organically from the main plot, like interesting and aesthetically pleasing side branches a reader-squirrel won't mind scampering along on the way up the parent tree. I wouldn't recommend grafting on side branches too violently -- they'd likely be weak, and the tree could be damaged.

Chasing the Horizon
05-06-2008, 05:32 AM
Welcome to AW, Piglet :)

I honestly have a very hard time imagining a chick-lit/woman's fiction novel working without the MC learning and changing during the story (not a genre I'm terribly familiar with, but still). What little I've seen of women's fiction, it generally tends to be character driven, and a character driven novel where the characters don't grow is kind of . . . pointless. Now what you've said (no subplots, no character growth) might work in something like a thriller or mystery (like James Bond, who seems to get on just fine without changing a single little bit). Maybe you have the outline for a mystery or thriller where the MC just happens to be female? *shrug* If it's true chick-lit, I think you better go back and figure out a plot that will mean more to the MC.

05-09-2008, 12:46 AM
I personally think the whole point to a "character driven" novel is to show change in a character, and thus the stories can be pretty subtle. I think a really good combination story on film is Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" which shows a fairly action filled plot (gun slingers, chase, cannibals), and yet the story is about someone coming to terms with the realization that he is dying, and then not fighting it.

Many stories ask for or demand a pretty static character: The example of James Bond came up. In the books though (I read all the Ian Fleming ones years ago) JB actually did have some moments of "growth," though he usually forgot about them by the next book.

I know this does not address chick-lit. I actually have never read any of that.

So my vote is "it depends."