With every great war there's a bunch of little battles to be won. What does this have to do with writing? Let me put it to you this way: with every conflict, there are minor setbacks. Still confused? With every PLOT there are SUBPLOTS.
Life is not a happy trail along a singular path. There are lots of different choices to make which can put you on an entirely different path than the one you meticulously planned out in career studies five years ago. That's right, I went there. ;)
The thing with five year plans is life happens. What you thought would happen at High School graduation when you were first starting High School likely won't be what happens. Or happened. When I was younger I figured by now I'd have a husband, a nice house, and kids. I've a house, a cat, and no children. When I started high school I was planning to go into the sciences, more specifically genetics. Life happened and I don't have a degree in science or any fancy letters after my name. Hell, I figured I'd be a best selling novelist by this time and, yeah, no.
Why is this important? The same concept occurring in your story makes your story more interesting. What are these minor setbacks called? Subplots. How many do you need? Enough to make life interesting and as with most novel concepts: there is no set number on how many subplots you need.
What you do need is one main plot or conflict: defeat the bad guy. How many subplots do you need with this? Well, there could be a romantic interest (one). Your hero might not know how to defeat the bad guy (two). Your hero's sibling could be kidnapped (three). Your hero might have to find the bad guy. (Four)...You see where I'm going with this?
The fun part is there could be conflicts within those subplots. The love interest of your hero might be working for the bad guy (one-a). The hero might have to find a special relic to defeat the bad guy and learn how to use said relic (two a and two b). Your hero's sibling could be part of a bigger problem (three a) Your bad guy might be able to travel between four different worlds (four a, b, c, and d). You see how subplots can get complicated?
The job of your subplots is to make your main plot more interesting. This usually means things are going to get complicated for your character but that's okay. Complicated is good just, try not to go overboard. We don't need two romantic love interests, six different relics needing to be combined in a certain way at a certain time in order to defeat your bad guy, multiple family members being killed, kidnapped or otherwise causing distractions, and a bad guy who's always on the move all in one novel. Spread that out in a series if you're going to get so complex.
That's the other fun thing about subplots. When you are doing a series you can have new ones appear for each book or one continue over multiple books. Some might start in book 3 and end in book 6. Another might start with book 1 and end in book 5.
Do you have to tie up every subplot in every book? Yes, again, not in serials. Every subplot must be resolved before you write THE END though. If not your reader will throw the book across the room and ask what the hell happened to X? Then they'll bug you until X is resolved and that's not fun for anyone involved.
Remember, subplots are little mini-stories attached to the main story that make the story more real, interesting, and drive the main plot. Do they have to make sense right away? Nope. But they MUST have something to do with the main story. Don't throw in a love interest just because, hey romance. Said love interest should be bringing something to the main story line.
Subplots move the story forward, keep the reader's interest, give some more information about what's going on in the story, and make sense in the world of your story. They provide little battles to the main war. You don't need thousands of them but you do need a few to keep things moving along nicely. Again: there's no set number for the amount of subplots you need to have. It all depends on your story.
Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.