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looking for tips on where to go with a subplot

Joe Long

A few chapters in my main character's sidekick (and cousin) gets a girlfriend (Susie). They've both been players in the past, and are working at a committed relationship. Now I'm working on some back story that will shape her subplot.

It's set in 1979 in a steel mill town in a valley near Pittsburgh, that like others in the region has seen a downturn in the economy and has many kids wanting to leave as soon as they can.

Eventually she and the MC become good friends along with some sexual tension (his girlfriend says, "She would do you in an instant") I wanted to have this friendship established to set up some events near the end of the story.

One of these is when she finds herself pregnant and ask the MC for advice on what to do. I thought I could complicate her situation by having her father losing his job, in one way or another, and facing relocation out of the area. Following her family could destroy her relationship with her boyfriend, and there's only five months until high school graduation.

For her backstory, I want to know which of the following you find more interesting and compelling -

1. I've been inspired by a guy who grew up two blocks up the street from me, a few years earlier. His future wife went to high school with my dad. He went to work in the mills straight out of high school, but attended college in the evenings to get a degree in the technical aspects. He got into management and was transferred out of town, and became the first person in the company's history to become a general manager of a plant and later company president after starting as a common laborer.

In the scene I've started writing, I pictured Susie's dad having that role, as a mid-level manager, upper middle class, who's being offered a higher position, but in another city. That may be revealed later, but for now she's skipping out on Sunday afternoon at the country club, as those fake pricks don't even like her father as he's not one of them.

2. Or, the other day I read Salena Zito's piece on the demise of the steel workers. I could also make Susie's dad a solidly middle class guy who may have worked his way up to supervisor, but now faces layoffs and may have to leave town just to stay employed.

I don't yet see either choice having a major impact on which direction her subplot goes. It's more to add some depth and social commentary, perhaps sharing some local history.

PS One of the reasons #2 interests me is that I earlier had compared my premise to that of "The Last Picture Show" (which I should re-watch sometime)

Crumbly Writer

Being promoted while everyone else is being downsized is a bummer, which casts the girl's entire family as bad guys. I'd go with the 'despite his success, he was being downsized, but due to his success with the new tech field, he immediately got a new offer but needs to transfer immediately'. This way, everyone is in the same boat, though it emphasizes the 'get your damn degree, so you can weather whatever life throws at you' theme. What's more, if she stays, (or her father does) then it threatens her entire future (not just the current romance) as she'll be stuck in a dead-end job just like everyone else, whereas if she goes with her family, she faces an entirely different future, while her soon-to-be ex faces the uncertain future she luckily managed to escape.


I personally prefer the first option. First of all it allows you more time to keep her in town if you want to extend her involvement in the story. That is because in my experience when middle management hears about layoffs they are usually quick in coming. Secondly, I think you can play more with the different cultures she and her father are exposed to by having him working his way up the company ladder. In the second option, even if you take Crumbly Writer's suggestion of trying to offset the "Bad Guys" issue with showing how he busted his ass to get ahead, it would potentially still read as he's the bad guy. Especially, to readers who have personally faced layoffs. The first seems more unique to me as well.

Just my two cents.

Joe Long

Thinking out loud after reading the suggestions -

Mr. Carruthers is a supervisor and when layoffs come the only way to keep his job is accept the transfer & promotion to Birmingham, Alabama. If he turns it down he'll be unemployed, while still having to pay the mortgage on the nice house in the nicest part of town. So you know what he's going to say.

I like the angle that guys he knows below him, who were formerly his equals, would resent his opportunity, while other management don't see him as one of them. Caught in the middle.

While he's going through all that bullshit, his 17 year old daughter announces she's pregnant, and there's no way she's moving 1000 miles away from the father of her child only 5 months before she graduates high school.

I can picture them having a big fight and they leave her behind. Maybe mom stays for awhile, but one the house is sold she's joining dad.

The only place for Susie to go is to move in with Dave and his family. The advantage of that for the story telling is that I need Hannah (Dave's sister and the MC's love interest) to have every reason to get depressed as hell so that she'll drink herself into alcohol poisoning and wind up in the hospital. With this, after Hannah's abortion that she kept from her boyfriend, not only does she have to see Susie pregnant and growing bigger, it will be under her own roof, and causing causing even more stress for Dave & Hannah's mom, Aunt Janet.

Whatever causes the most pain for the characters, amirite?

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

You can always massage either scenario. In either case, if the girl is pregnant and about to graduate, the parents are unlikely to force her to move unless they KNOW she can graduate on time with the same (or similar) opportunities, as she's going to be unlikely (in 1979, at least) to complete her education in order to get a decent job after her kids get a little older.

I'd be careful with the 'Mom leaves as soon as the house sells', as it makes it look like the 'rents don't care about her, but you can play that off by 'look, I won't stay with my boyfriend, but I have another friend's parents willing to put me up. Talk to them, and they'll tell you they won't allow me to spend my nights anywhere else, etc.'

As long as they (the family) sells the family that she's in decent care, she's free and clear to stick around.

Of course, the other option is, the father gets the job, but it's conditional on his replacing the current manager who's retiring soon. He and his wife will travel frequently so he can learn from the old guy, but won't be required to move until the other guy quits and the new position officially 'opens up'. That gets the family out of the picture whenever and for as long as you need, while leaving her (and potentially them) in town as long as you need, while still holding the threat of them leaving soon dangling over them.

Ross at Play

@Joe Long

Whatever causes the most pain for the characters, amirite?

Right, but once the house is sold mom will join dad? That ain't gonna happen ... not in a PA steel town just after a factory closed, at least not without major delays and frustrations about offers well below what they had thought the house was "worth".

Replies:   Joe Long
Joe Long

@Ross at Play

Right, but once the house is sold mom will join dad? That ain't gonna happen ... not in a PA steel town just after a factory closed, at least not without major delays and frustrations about offers well below what they had thought the house was "worth".

Point taken.

Dad can go on ahead, leaving Mom with expectation that she'll join him when school's out. Lord knows I've worked away from home.

The book will end 2 to 3 months after Susie's pregnancy is revealed, and before they graduate, so not everything on her subplot has to be resolved. It just has to get the main plot to the climax and and aftermath.

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