9

The main plot follows the MC while travelling through the world trying to rescue his family. While doing this however, he must overcome a lot of difficulties. These are subplots focused on other characters' issues and relations, but involving the MC and his companions.

My problem is, as I'm writing them, I realize that the subplots are actually more interesting than the main one. And I feel like the readers might not care at all about the MC's family and his rescue mission.

So, is it fine for the story as a whole if I let this happen, or should I change this somehow? Should the main plot always stand out above the subplots?

I didn't find any question or source talking about this specific problem, so any links are appreciated.

11

You might have a Frame Story as your main plot that connects several short stories.

Famous examples are One Thousand and One Nights where the wily hero Shahrazade narrates short stories to stay alive, and Canterbury Tales where each short story is told by a different character within the frame story.

A similar idea in cinema is called an Anthology Film, where several smaller films sometimes by different directors are contained within the longer movie. Either they are connected by a frame story, or simply flow from one to the next.

5

Perhaps your MC is really a secondary character. I was writing a novel and had it all planned out, then met the real MC on page 180 (long hand manuscript on legal) and rewrote the book with a different balance. My original MC remained vital, but his arc was insignificant compared with that of my new and real MC.

When I met my other MC, I asked myself whose story this really was and imagined it without one or the other MC. My new MC proved essential to the story, even when he was not present - his influence lingered. My original MC I could have removed with minimal impact, so the story was not his.

What you might have is a tale with multiple strong characters who each have a story worth knowing - more of an ensemble cast situation.

You could also have two separate but related novels with enough adventures to hold the reader’s interest.

Frankly, if the story is working, don’t break it. I have read novels where secondary characters were more engaging than the main character and they work.

If you weave the plots together in a pleasing way that does not jar the reader, the main plot can be subsumed into the tapestry of the whole.

3

That's absolutely fine.

As other answers have said the concept of a fairly generic plot where the sub-stories are the real meat is very old indeed and can work very well. Especially with the rise of long form TV series (Netflix etc) where you're trying to balance an overall story arc with compelling individual episodes.

A good example is the radio play Pilgrim, which I suspect is inspired by the Canterbury Tales and has a lot of overt references to European Fairy Tales and strike a very good balance between an episodic format and an overall story arc and cumulative world building.

Equally a lot if very good TV series have a similar approach, Babylon 5, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica and indeed Buffy and Firefly.

So yeah if you thing your sub-plots are your strength than play to that strength and write for an episodic format. It's a form I am a big fan of.

You could even argue that some of the most successful novel series like Sharpe, Hornblower, the Culture Series and even the Discworld series broadly follow this pattern.

3

You can make a story like that a "change of life" story for your MC. "Coming of age" is just one kind of change of life, there are others, they all just mean she comes to a new understanding of life due to the events in the story.

In other words these subplots influence her thinking, she comes to understand people and life differently. So that by the end, their collective influence has changed her in some significant way. She falls in love, or out of love, she loses her faith in somebody else, or in her religion. She stops being subordinate to her father, or mother. In some way, the reader knows she and her life won't be the same.

Your only problem is that whatever is driving her to complete her quest must seem to the reader compelling enough for her to make the journey in the first place; this must be a journey she cannot let go.

Recall Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, pretty much the whole story is sub-stories about the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Wicked Witch and the Wizard himself. But Dorothy is compelled to make her journey and perform her tasks, it is the only way she can get home. In the end getting home is a pretty trivial and anti-climactic exercise. IMO, because she already had her ruby slippers from the start, so her journey, encounters, battle and uncovering the fraud of the Wizard were all unnecessary!

However, they were necessary to change Dorothy into a different person.

When she succeeds, she is a changed girl, with renewed love for her family. It isn't a coming of age story, there is no romantic or sexual component and Dorothy has not become a woman in any sense; but it is a change of life story for Dorothy. She has been a leader, a problem solver, a hero, she has been brave and attacked and killed the evil witch to save her friends.

In this approach your story can have a real false climax, when your MC saves her family, but the true climax of the story follows that: the MC revealing how she has changed, at least to the reader, perhaps to the family that knows her. She can make a dramatic life decision (after being influenced by her adventures): "I won't marry Tom", or "Sorry Dad, I'm switching my major from medicine to engineering." Basically something about the trip has caused her to assert her independence and control of her life, so she asserts independence in making a life decision for herself, without needing to please her parents or family or anyone else. She can love them without having to listen to them!

If you look at your story in this light, you might be able to ferret out some transformation your MC can be undergoing, and then tweak your scenes and subplots so she is being nudged in each scene along the path of this transformation (as revealed in her thoughts and actions).

If you choose this route, this definitely becomes a "Character driven" story which can happen in any genre; and your scenes should all be told through the eyes of your MC. That is the character we want to see thinking, being troubled and questioning what they know and changing her mind. She is the one the reader should love, so in the end the reader understands and is glad for her success, not just in saving her family, but for her success in finding her true self.

  • 1
    In my case, some scenes will have to be told without the MC. There's a whole war in which he's involved, and there are important things that happen far away from him, and characters that have something to add to the story. But you are mostly right. The things he will do to reach his final goal are going to change him, shape his mind and body. And a "false climax" as you say, will take place when he accomplishes his original goal. I'll take a new look at the story with that point of view. – scrp Oct 4 '18 at 11:29
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    @scrp I guess if it is not every scene, that can still work. Especially if your narrator is omniscient. If told from some other POV, however, those characters need some arc of their own, I personally would not add a POV character for convenience that doesn't change over the course of the story. Another option is a "frame", have somebody else tell the story of what happened distantly TO the MC and /or his friends; a refugee they meet, or a powerful person with spies reporting, or find a way to use your tech or magic to reveal what game-changer is happening far away. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 4 '18 at 13:33

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