Writing Subplots In Detective Novels

Now that you’ve worked out the main plot for your mystery thriller, crime or detective novel, consider adding subplots.

A sub what?

A subplot takes place within the main plot of your detective novel. It’s also called a story thread and story within a story. Subplots are shorter than the main plot. But like the main plot, they tell a story with characters, conflict and resolution.

There’s no rule of thumb on how many subplots to include in your detective novel. It really depends on how long and how complex of a book you want to write.

Subplots add texture to your detective novel. They increase drama, add intrigue, misdirection and depth to your book.


There are many uses for subplots. The most obvious, of course, is to make your book longer. Otherwise, not only is your detective novel one dimensional, it may feel too short.

But subplots also accomplish other things. They add dimension and help you develop your characters by putting them into various situations that reveal other sides of their personalities.

You can also use subplots to change the mood and pace of your story. Suppose, for example, you just completed a heart pounding scene in your detective novel where an important character just barely escapes.

Taking readers into a calmer subplot storyline lightens the mood and lets them catch their emotional breath.


When considering different types of subplots to use in your detective novel, think variety. Maybe it’s a physical challenge. While solving the mystery, your hero also pursues a goal or solves a problem separate from the mystery.

Let’s say the main character in your mystery is a high school newspaper reporter tracking down the basketball team’s stolen mascot uniform. But his editor also assigns him to write a story on the local dog show. You might intersect the two plots somehow or keep them completely separate.

Or maybe your subplot is an internal story. A decision or moral dilemma the character wrestles with.

In my faith-based detective novel, Soul Pursuit, the main character, Jack Sterling is on a faith journey. He starts out a non-religious person, but experiences a number of encounters throughout the book to a climax where he is confronted with his beliefs about God and his own personal faith decision.

As you master the art of writing subplots and weave them together with your main plot, you’ll create a detective novel that is longer, more interesting and engaging.


Chip Tudor is a freelance copywriter, author, playwright and pastor. He publishes drama at www.chiptudor.com  and books on Amazon.com.

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