This post concludes a look at the functions of tiered subplots. As we move lower down the tiers of subplot types, their functions become less complex, which makes it easy for us to look at tiers 3, 4, and 5 together. We’ll also continue our examination of subplots in Eleanor and Park, which makes them very easy to understand.
A story could probably exist without 3rd Tier subplots, but it is better for them. They clearly support the central conflict without any threat of overtaking it. 3rd Tier Subplots may establish allies, set stages, provide vehicle for relationships to occur, or even function as thematic threads. Eleanor and Park’s friends can be though of as 3rd Tier Subplots. Park and Eleanor can make their journey without Cal or DeNice and Beebi, but they enhance the story. Cal’s crush on Kim provides a helpful contrast to the main romance, one which helps Park develop his true values about love. DeNice and Beebi show Eleanor is a really nice girl. So while Cal is kind of a negative example of how to conduct yourself romantically in high school, DeNice and Beebi support Eleanor in her struggle for real love. Also, consider the comic books and music 3rd Tier Subplots. The X-men and Park’s mix tapes give Park and Eleanor a way to come together –they provide vehicles for the relationship, itself. Another type of 3rd Tier Subplot may be the thematic thread. In E & P, Rowell paints these in with brushstrokes that are vivid but never heavy-handed. This is why at the end of the book we realize we have also been reading about ethnicity and poverty, or more broadly –isolation. It is my observation that the read may see 3rd Tier Subplots arc gently in three to seven scenes throughout the story. They may be dispersed liberally throughout the early parts of the novel, but taper off as more subplots more tightly tied to the central conflict take over in Part III of the Hero’s Journey.
4th Tier Subplots repeat occasionally. They can be used to provide a reality check, show character growth, reveal important knowledge, or add to setting, mood, or theme. In E & P, these might be the classroom and counselor scenes. They provide a stage for events to unfold. Consider the honors student who chides Park in class. She makes actual appearance in scenes, but demonstrates no real arc of change. She is merely a reality check. These scenes may be distributed occasionally throughout any section of the story as needed.
5th Tier Subplots include people who are mentioned by name one or two times. They are named so more than anonymous, but they exist merely to populate the character’s world, to give a sense of the community of people around the character. In E & P these 5th Tier Subplots include mention of Mikey, Junior, Eric, and Tina’s sidekick, Anette.
Fantastic fan art by Simini Blocker!
When you’re working of the manuscript of something as big as a novel, it is hard to hold everything in your head at the same time. Seeing subplots as tiered with unique functions helped me not only to understand their role in supporting the main conflict, but also to chart them as I revised, making sure I developed each and pulled its thread all the way through the story. Thank you, Rainbow, for providing such a well-structured novel that I could finally see how this all worked. In an effort to summarize the information from these last three posts in a useful way so you can think about your own manuscript and subplots, I put together this chart. Hope it helps!