Welcome to post #101! Can you believe it? Had I realized that before now, I’d have made sure to finish one of the twenty drafts I have on hand. But I didn’t so this is a revised yet recycled post from an old blog. At least I didn’t recycle the mommy blog posts and at least I’m environmentally friendly. Right? 🙂
A few summers ago we found a mother cat and three kittens on the patio in front of our house. One of the dogs discovered them when she decided to jump up on back legs to look outside through the dining room window because she was finished looking out the other seven thousand windows in the house. Of course it was the middle of the night and of course I was awake from then on, as she/we watched the kittens play in the dark amidst the withering flowers and plants succumbing to the fact that I stopped watering the week before (I’m a May-June gardener — after that, it’s too dang hot). The next day dog #2 and mama cat had a staring match through the window. I then decided those tiny, wobbly kittens must be hungry and although feeding them would endear me to them for life, I was sure, I used my favorite plastic platter and spread a can of tuna near the rim so the kittens could reach it easily. That would have been great if the mama cat would have then let them have any. Which she did not. When I saw the tiny kitties licking an empty plate, well, what was I supposed to do? More tuna. More plates. I pushed the plates to the two spots where the kittens were hiding and then when I hid, they ate the tuna.
Later that day I rigged the dining room curtain so dog #2 could not wiggle through where the two sides meet. I left the outside lights off so the cats would be harder to see.
Good story, right? I wish. But POOF — the cat and kittens were gone. I thought mama cat would come back. My daughter and I decided on a place to feed them where the dog wouldn’t see them. I researched feral cats and called the local humane society. Heck, we even named all four of them. There was no way I was taking in four cats but we decided if one came back — well then our hand might be forced. No need for all the planning. The cats were gone for good. Gone, yes. But not forgotten.
You know, like a dropped subplot.
Dropped characters who have no graceful or dramatic exits and dropped subplots with no imaginable or actual ending are probably my biggest pet peeve in reading and writing. Everything in literature needn’t be tied up neatly with a bow, but I think there should be a reasonable explanation or an understanding of a character’s departure. If there’s a subplot we don’t need to read “the end” but we do need to know (or think we know) where something is headed.
A writer friend of my uses spreadsheets to do this. I’m not quite as organized. OK, I am no way nearly as organized. I have scribblings on paper that say “Don’t forget about so-and-so” which is the writerly string on my finger. Throughout my novel and works in progress I tried to weave different storylines that have beginnings, middles and endings that do not coincide with the beginning, middle and end of the novel. Some of those secondary endings leave the reason without question and some point to possibilities and allow the reader to surmise, wonder and think. I relied on my betas to help discover nuances missed and threads that have detangled. Since I know what happens in my stories, what doesn’t happen — I’m often too close to it all (shout-out to betas – you know who you are).
With more recent experience I’ve come to realize that if I know that each character has a purpose other than simply to support another character, it’s much easier to imagine a story for that character. It needn’t all be in the book, but if I know it all I can have that character’s arc complete, no matter how short or shallow. Does every character need a full story? No. But if you’ve woven a subplot into the book in Chapter 1 and don’t mention it again, oh, til the middle of the book, I’m just going to itch. If supposedly vital relationships show up now and again, it makes me twitch. In real life we may be able to pick up the phone after six months to talk with a friend and it’s like no time has passed, but a reader has only 300-500 pages (typically) to get into the world of your characters, to belt themselves in for the ride. I know now that for the stories I like to read – and write – weaving is the perfect metaphor. Sometimes you see the threads, sometimes you don’t, but they are always there ready to poke back out and make themselves know, add to the colorful schema, the artwork, the tapestry — you know — the plot.
I have shelved authors who drop subplots. It disappointments me so much that I don’t read them again. No second chances with me – there’s too much out there to read.
I can only imagine it was that way with the cats. A big wide world to explore and without the lure of more than a can of tuna (it was albacore!) they were not sticking around for more. And just like a book with elusive subplots – I kept hoping they’d come back so I could learn the rest of their story.
How do you keep track of threads and subplots in your writing? Is it scientific? Secret? Simple? Do tell! Have you dropped a character or subplot and gone back to fix it?