Cutting Out Dead Sub-Plots

Let’s talk about plot.

Manifestation, like most books, has a main plot and several sub-plots. Now obviously I don’t want to start posting major spoilers, so instead of discussing the specific plot elements, I’ll discuss the theories behind them. One is “the crucible.”

Sol Stein, in his book, Stein On Writing, calls the crucible “A Key to Successful Plotting” (p. 94). A crucible is essentially a vessel or container that holds the characters together. This can take place in many forms. In a book that takes place in a certain location, the location itself can serve as a crucible. The Harry Potter series is an example of this; nearly the entire series takes place in Hogwarts Castle (or on the castle grounds). Many of the conflicts that arise, say, between Harry and Draco, occur because the characters are stuck in the same place together. They CAN’T get away from each other (unless they drop out of wizarding school, which they won’t do). Since they’re forced to endure each other, conflict arises.

Other types of crucibles can be a family (family members are forced to endure each other if they want to maintain familial relationships), a business (coworkers or business partners who have to work together to achieve success), or people stuck together in a survival situation (who know going it alone will mean death). In any case, forcing the characters into such a situation leads to tension and conflict, which can help drive the plot forward.

The main plot of Manifestation involves a crucible. Without giving away spoilers, suffice to say Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah are stuck in a situation together that leads to a great deal of tension and conflict. This conflict carries all the way through the story up until the climax. In theory, the characters COULD end it all and relieve the tension by parting ways, but circumstances force them to stay together. Just like how Harry and Draco don’t want to face the consequences of dropping out of wizarding school, Gabby and Tock don’t want to face the consequences of leaving their crucible.

All that being said, however, there is a second layer of plotting. Sub-plots.

A love story in any non-romance novel is a sub-plot. Since I’m already talking about Harry Potter, the obvious examples there are Harry and Ginny plus Ron and Hermione. Those romances are secondary to the main plot of defeating Voldemort He Who Shall Not Be Named. In a romance novel, on the other hand, the relationship is most likely the primary plot. Other sub-plots from the Harry Potter series include things like the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, the Quidditch tournaments, the competition between the different houses, and so on. Technically, you could cut some of these elements out and the main plot would still work fine (the movies, for example, cut S.P.E.W. out, and nobody noticed). The sub-plots can still be important, however, and they add a lot of texture to the books. Also, they’re a strong element of world-building; seeing these extra elements added in shows the reader more about the world beyond the events of the main plot.

Now naturally, my book has a number of sub-plots, like any other. But the process of revisions involves, among other things, analyzing those sub-plots and deciding which ones are helping the book versus which ones are hindering it. Quite a few of them are still strong and help develop the characters and the world they live in. A couple, however, got dropped along the way as I became more invested in the main plot. These sub-plots are therefore half-baked, and end up serving as more of a distraction than anything else.

Now with enough work, they might be able to be salvaged and turned into something valuable. In this case, however, I think the book will be stronger by cutting them. This isn’t as simple as you’d think. If a certain sub-plot is referenced in chapters 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, and 10, I need to go through each of those chapters in order to find every reference and cut it out. This might also involve writing some new material to make up for what was cut. But in either case, it’ll be worth it.

So I’m going to go work on that for the rest of the night. Manifestation is currently sitting at around 110,000 words. We’ll see how many are left when I finish trimming the fat.


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