What is Subplot in Literature? Definition, Examples of Literary Subplot

Subplot definition: A subplot is a secondary plot that runs parallel to the main story.

What is a Subplot?

A subplot is a secondary plot that runs parallel to the main story. These plots can be seen as stories themselves and support the action in the main plot.

Subplot Example

In the New York Times bestseller Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the story follows the story of a young Nigerian woman who is trying to find her place in the world.

Within this plot, there are several subplots that give details of her other friends’ lives. For example, at several points in the book she stops narrating about her life and goes into a story about her first love’s life.

Modern Examples of Subplot

In the prime time television series Friday Night Lights, the main plot of the story follows Coach Taylor and his family’s experience in Dillon, TX. Within this main plot there are other subplots that give glimpses into the high school football player’s lives. For instance, throughout the fourth season, the show follows the subplot of Vince’s struggle to choose between a path of violence or the path of successful student and football player.

In Showtime’s Dexter, the main focus of the show is Dexter Morgan’s serial killing sprees. However, the show also includes subplots that highlight lives of the other characters. One character that is often involved in these subplots is Dexter’s sister Debra Morgan. The subplots often follow Debra’s search for a healthy relationship.

The Function of Subplot

Subplots serve important purposes in a work of fiction. They can offer depth to the main plot as well as added tension. Audiences are interested in the conflicts that stories offer, so by adding subplots, these tense situations are increased allowing for more interest.

Examples of Subplot in Literature

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the main plot is focused on the ill-fated love between Romeo and Juliet. However, the subplot is focused on the feud between the two families and how deadly it has become throughout the years. For example, many of the subplot lines follow the young Capulets and Montagues fighting in the streets of Verona. By adding these scenes, it creates further tension for the audience.

In John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, the main plot is centered on the protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, and his quest for his place in a world that he finds repulsive. Within this plot, there is a subplot that is focused on showing his mother’s life. This secondary story shows her struggles with her son’s failures and her attempts to be happy in life.


Define subplot in literature: A subplot is a secondary plot that runs parallel to the main plot of a story and is included to add depth and tension to the main story.

Final Example:

In the movie Forrest Gump, the main plot centers on Forrest telling his life story. A subplot of Forrest’s story would be when the audience gets small glimpses into his childhood love’s life.

By adding these subplots, the audience is able to see what is happening in Jenny’s life as Forrest lives his.