What Ogres, Onions, and Parfaits Have in Common With A Good Novel

yogurt-2-1389017-mToday–continuing on the topic of content edits in fiction–I want to talk about subplots. About balance between subplots. It’s SOOO hard to do. It’s hard because each subplot has its own tone, mood, and theme. Each also has its own pacing.

Ideally these tones, moods, and themes, as well as pacing, will differ somewhat from the major plot arc and from each other. After all, variety is a large part of what makes a novel readable.

Each subplot brings a different focus and different approach that ideally blend in with the rest of the work without diluting it.

Perhaps “blend” gives the wrong image, though.

You don’t want a smoothie of a novel…. A good smoothie has no variety. It’s uniform throughout. While you want uniform quality, that’s different.

The fact is, good novels blend by striation. A good novel is a trifle.

You want a TRIFLE of a novel. (Novels have layers…. Like onions and ogres, or at least Shrek the Ogre. And like parfaits. Ain’t nobody ever said, “No, I don’t want no parfait.”)


I have a romantic subplot causing issues in my WIP (a sword and sorcery novel).

Well, I guess it’s not causing LOTS of problems. The layers are just too chunky.



The problem is that the first half of the book is heavy on action. It involves breaking up a slavery ring and stopping abductions from a coastal town. It’s pretty much on par with the way I usually write and what I usually do with my novels.

It focuses on bravery, courage, and sacrifice. It’s about DOING.

At the start of the second half, a romance subplot has taken over. It’s not over the top in any way; it just takes up a lot of page time.

It’s much more philosophical in nature. It focuses on integrity, resolve, and resignation. It’s more about BEING.

And that’s a good balance overall: life is always a balance between doing and discovering how we want to be. The people we want to be.

The way my fiction is set up, though, there is an obvious pacing issue. The “doing” establishes a pace that then just lags, lags, lags when the love story plot comes into play.


I need to thin the layers out. I’m lucky in that there is lots of action at the END of the second half. (I mean, I’m writing sword and sorcery, so there needs to be something exciting going on.)

I just need to cut down the love story subplot. Cut down as much as possible and where I can, weave its advancement into the second half’s action segments.

I’m not doing that just yet, because my current editing pass is to make sure the overall plot holds together. Nothing in the love story plot feels inconsistent or “wrong” in some way; there’s just too much of it.

Cutting back is for my next editing pass: after I have the basic story tight and coherent, because there’s a lot overall that needs tightening.

As I hope this post made clear (and as I’ve mentioned in passing once before), pacing is really a content issue. It relates strongly to the extent of and arrangement of your content.

I hope to go into that tomorrow. For now I’m curious about your thoughts related to parfaits and smoothies! What do you think about balance between subplots? How do you try to balance yours?

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to sign up to follow my blog by email at the top right of the page. You might also find these related posts helpful:

  1. What’s the role of romance in fantasy literature?
  2. What authors can learn from ogres: on “happily ever after”
  3. Content Edits versus Flow Edits
  4. Creative Writing Workship: Breaking Down Content Edits


18 responses to “What Ogres, Onions, and Parfaits Have in Common With A Good Novel

  1. Reblogged this on Library of Erana and commented:
    🙂 Interesting. Subplots can be useful but they can get confusing and overwhelm the main plot or simply get lost.

  2. No, I don’t want no parfait! Just kidding, my struggle with writing has always been having too many characters I’m in love with and combining their stories to match the overall plot and subplot.

    • Oh my gosh, YES. That balancing act is really tough…. I’m glad you mentioned it! I’m having issue with how to overlap subplots in my WIP right now…. I have some fun ideas but it’s always a test of will as well as creativity 🙂

  3. Subplots are great for character development, but I do think they shouldn’t overshadow the main plot. I have that problem at times because I have a character driven story. What I try to do is fit in a chapter section every now and then for a subplot. If it’s a romance, I find a lull in the action where the lovers can court, go on a date, fight, or something. At times, I’ve had them talk during the action. I have a scene set up for my next book where two potential lovers are trapped in a closet by monsters, so they talk while trying to keep the door closed. A lot of the ‘this isn’t the time!’ stuff, but I like the humor and doing it fits one of the characters. I guess what I’m saying is that I like to find ways to slip the subplot into the story and spotlight it on occasion.

    • Oh my gosh I LOVE This isn’t the time stuff!!! 😛 It can be a real blast 🙂 I definitely agree that a lot of characterization happens with subplots and that the main story arc should still take precedence.

      • Ever notice how subplots seem to be remembered more often than major plots? For example, people remember the Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker subplot and the Han Solo/Jabba the Hutt subplot more often than the major war that was the ‘main plot’ of Star Wars.

  4. Miss Alexandrina

    Reblogged this on Miss Alexandrina.

  5. Layers. Very interesting! Love your analogy! Thanks for that helpful assessment of your subplots. I’ve had difficult with subplots—i.e. putting too many in them. I had to cut two subplots in my last novel, because the story dragged.

    With subplots, I stick to those that fit the main character’s emotional theme. If they don’t tie back to that, they start to seem like rabbit trails. The arc’s of those subplots come to a close before the main character’s arc does.

    • Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you wrote this. What you say about fitting the mood of the novel is dead on. That emotional connection…. that thematic thread…. is very necessary to hold a novel together.

      Too many subplots can definitely cause issues…. I’ve had to scrap subplots before though usually in the planning phase (which I do in my head). More often after writing I end up having to ADD stuff to flesh everything out.

  6. I suppose some of what I write would be considered to be subplots, but I don’t think in terms of subplots myself. I have a plot, and anything that happens in the story has some bearing on that plot. Some details and descriptions might seem minor at the time, but it all ties in to the main plot at some fashion. If it doesn’t, then I’m not sure why I included it, and I’m likely to cut it during editing.

    I don’t think of my story as having layers so much as a constant evolution from the beginning to the end. Like the colors of the rainbow, gradually shifting from red on one edge and violet on the other, with no discreet jumps between any two colors. But then, my WIP follows the protagonist around everywhere, and it’s his evolution that the story presents.

  7. If you’re not in the romance genre, then I’m grateful to any author that says they have to ‘thin out’ the romance plot. Too many swords and sorcerer writers don’t, and the romance becomes too much, when that wasn’t what I bargained for, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    Unfortunately, all you have to do is say ‘sub plot’ and I’m thinking of HP. I try not to use HP as an example too much because everyone does, but Rowling really changed the course of literary fiction there, and she does amazing and juggling all those subplots. For each book, as well as the all-encompassing plot. It’s truly awesome.

    • I agree that Rowling was a master of the subplot. And I could not agree more about romance and other genres that aren’t the romance genre: If I wanted a real focus on romance I would pick up a romance novel. Period. So when I’m reading something marketed as something else, I expect something else and don’t want romance in the forefront.

      That doesn’t mean you can haven’t a great love story woven in, of course. Just that I don’t like it to be the focus. I read for other kinds of adventures 🙂

  8. Pingback: 5 Psychological Struggles That Enhance Great Plot in Fiction | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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