Don’t overwhelm reader with too many subplots

Sometimes writers get too creative for their own good. Such is the case when they think about all the stories their characters – major and minor – could experience.

While the writer’s understanding of the world he’s creating is laudable, for the reader all of those storylines can be overwhelming. There simply is too much to keep track of, and a lot of times those subplots have very little to do with the main story.

The simple solution is to cut some of the subplots. Usually this decision can be done by determining which of the subplots are necessary to ensure the main story will work. For a short story, one subplot and at the most two if a longer piece, is the norm. A novel can survive with two or three subplots. All of the other subplots ought to be cut.

If there’s just a lone fact or two in a subplot that needs to be know for the main story to work, the subplot still can be deleted. That need-to-know fact can be incorporated into the story through a quick line or two of dialogue between characters.

Getting rid of a subplot doesn’t mean that writing must go to waste. Perhaps that subplot can be saved for another story set in that world. Another possibility is using it as a “bonus” story on the website that promotes the book.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.