Zero Population Subplots

I have a new story peeve that goes hand-in-hand with my gripe about characters who refuse to stay dead. And that is . . .

SUBPLOT POPULATION EXPLOSION.

So here’s the thing. I’ve been Netflixing Once Upon a Time season 5. And while the first half of the season was fine, the second half of the season was apparently concocted to bring back EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER we have ever seen on the show. And if you’ve watched any of that show, you know that’s a LOT of characters. Every episode is some underdeveloped side plot that has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot arc–it’s just there to say, “Hey, remember this person you saw for five minutes back in season X? They’re going to show up in the Underworld whether they’re dead or not!”

Okay. Rant over.

So how do I apply this annoyance to writing?

I have a deep and abiding love of minor characters. But there’s a reason the story isn’t about them.

As writers, we have this deep desire to share EVERYTHING we know with the readers. But we know way more about our minor characters and our worlds than the reader needs–or wants–to know. Subplots are good insofar as they support and drive the main plot. But when a subplot becomes irrelevant to the story, you have to let that subplot g0, often along with a character or two.

You don’t always have to kill the character. But for goodness’ sake, let them move on. Move away. Get a new job. Drift. Have a mid-life crisis. Run away from home. Not knowing what happened to a minor character is much more believable and relatable than knowing exactly what happened to all seventy-two characters in your story until the end of their lives.

If you try to keep bringing back every character, there will come a point where your readers can’t keep them straight, or they won’t even care anymore because there are just too many to become emotionally attached.

All right. Now I’ve gotta go watch some more Once Upon a Time. Because let’s be honest, Killian Jones. (Who came up with that name?!)

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7 Comments

  1. Hahaha. Killian Jones! I had to stop watching that show because I was like watching a hard core soap opera. Right when you think you have the plot figured out it diverges in five directions at once. Then, when you think something has FINALY been resolved, you get slammed with some ridiculous upheaval that turns the world upside down.

  2. I stopped watching OUAT after the second season. I could understand basing it on the vast sea of Grimm fairy tales, but when they started to bring in Peter Pan references, Lewis Carroll stuff (not that I’m against Alice in Wonderland), and Mulan, they’d gone a little too far in my book. So, missing out on Killian. Might have to pop in to check that out… πŸ˜‰

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