AskDefine | Define subplot

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A plot within a story, subsidiary to the main plot.
    • 1978, R.B. Lee & R. Misiorowski, Script Models: A Handbook for the Media Writer,
      Subplot, a story line enclosed within the principal story to provide relief from the main plot's tension, add character dimension, etc.
    • 1998: Stephen Roy Miller, The Taming of a Shrew: the 1594 quarto
      Structurally, the two most variant scenes (outside of Scene ii) are Scenes 3 and 4 in which the compiler works out the variant subplot.
    • 2001: Dennis O'Neil, The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics
      In a sense, Superman's romance with Lois Lane was a subplot and [...]
    • 2001, Nancy Arbuthnot Johnson, Vic Neufield, Forging Links for Health Research,
      But this story has a subplot — a subplot about fairness and how people have divergent levels of access to knowledge and resources.
  2. A subdivision of a plot of land, especially one used for an agricultural experiment.
    • 1996: The American Midland Naturalist, published by the University of Notre Dame
      [...] on sixteen 8/10-acre plots (12.8 acres) well distributed over the area. [...] A 1/160-acre subplot was established in a randomly chosen corner of each [...]
    • 1999, E. K. Sadanandan Nambiar, Christian Cossalter, Site Management and Productivity in Tropical Plantation Forest,
      There are 72 trees in each plot (6x12) and 36 trees in each subplot.
    • 2002, M. Boya Edwards, Proceedings for the Eight Biennial Southern Silvicultural Research Conference,
      Hardwood and shrub stems (besides gallberry) were counted by species and measured for total height (if greater than 2 ft) on 3 strip plots per subplot that were 0.01 acre […]

Extensive Definition

A subplot, sometimes referred to as a "B story" or a "C story" and so on, is a secondary plot strand that is auxiliary to the main plot. Subplots may connect to main plots, in either time and place or in thematic significance. Subplots often involve supporting characters, those besides the protagonist or antagonist.
Examples of works of fiction or drama which contain a subplot:
  • In William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part II, the main plot concerns Henry's growth from "Hal" the prince to "Henry" the king and the reconquest of French territory. A subplot, however, concerns Falstaff's participation in the battles. Falstaff and Henry meet at several points, and Falstaff is a familiar of Henry's, but his plot and Henry's do not mix. Even though they may be thematically connected, they are not connected in action.
  • In The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the main plot consists of Gatsby’s attempt to gather the admiration of his old love, Daisy, but a subplot develops concerning the romance of their friends, Nick Caraway and Jordan Baker.
  • In Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth, the main plot consists of the romance between Neil, a twenty-something slacker, and Brenda, a suburban princess, but a subplot develops around an African-American child who loves art books and whom Neil observes at his job in the public library.
Subplots are distinguished from the main plot by taking up less of the action, having less significant events occur, with less impact on the 'world' of the work, and occurring to less important characters. When, as in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward, about a group of patients at that ward, no one character's story clearly predominates, the plots will not be distinguished into the main plot and subplots. Because of their brevity, short stories and to a large extent, novellas, mostly contain no subplot.
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