Subplot: Definition & Examples

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Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Every novel, play, television show, and movie contains a plot or storyline that unfolds before us. But the most captivating ones draw us in by including a subplot as well. In this lesson, we will discuss what a subplot is and why it is important to a story.

What Is a Subplot?

A subplot is a secondary plot or storyline that coexists with the main story. Subplots are often a part of novels, short stories, plays, movies, and television shows. Many romantic comedies today involve a love story in which two characters find their way to each other, break apart after something bad happens, and then reunite right before the movie ends. But, let's say this love story has the added bonus of a quirky best friend who works with the female lead and is constantly setting her up with all of the wrong guys. This subplot, or minor story, adds to the overall story.

Subplots add depth and complexity to stories and thereby increase the tension, which is a state of increased interest and uncertainty about the events in the story. Subplots also show different sides of the characters, thereby engaging the reader or audience member even more.

Examples of a Subplot

The quarrel between the Montagues and Capulets was a subplot in Romeo and Juliet

William Shakespeare often included many subplots in his plays. For example, Romeo and Juliet follows the love story between the two title characters. The subplot of the long-standing rivalry between their two families (the Montagues and the Capulets) unfolds to increase conflict and add to the drama of these young lovers' forbidden romance. There are scenes depicting the young Montagues (Romeo's friends) fighting with the Capulets (Juliet's cousin and his friends). And there are also scenes in which the older Montagues and Capulets discuss the hatred felt towards the opposing side. Without this subplot, the main romantic plot following the young couple would not be as dramatic, and their ultimate deaths would not prove so tragic.

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