Maybe you have the narrow passageway, but how do the surrounding scenes stand out?
That’s how much time we spend focusing on what’s going on in the main storyline. As a result, we often forget that other things have to happen too. Writing movies and TV shows is not easy. You have to juggle the characters and their motivations and make sure the audience is interested in everyone.
Today I want to dive into the things that happen outside of the main storyline, the subplots, and the B-stories that make your movie or TV show appear as a whole. We’ll learn about the strategies you can use in development and look at some great examples. I also want to dig deeper into the idea of romantic subplots since they are so popular.
All right, hesitating enough, let’s leave the main story behind and dig into what’s left.
Here’s how to make your script subplots glow
Before you know how to write great subplots, it would be better to know what they are and how to use them.
What is a subplot?
In film and television screenwriting, a subplot is one of the storylines that support the main plot.
There can be more than one subplot, and they can have scenes that overlap with the main plot. Subplots usually have their own supporting characters in addition to the protagonist or antagonist. They have their own desires, wishes and arcs.
Are subplots different from B stories?
Many people use these terms interchangeably, but there are small differences. Usually, B-stories relate directly to your main character, while subplots don’t.
Subplots run parallel to the A story and are usually a separate story.
B-stories usually run concurrently with the A-story and often develop within the main plot.
What is a B story?
The B-story is your character’s secondary motivation or mission. As if Indiana Jones wanted the Ark, but he also needs to balance his relationship with Marion. The B-story could be a personal problem that you need to solve, or it could be an emotional hurdle.
B-stories usually go straight to the theme of the script.
For example in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s A-story is about finding the wizard and getting home, but the B-story is helping Oz and her new friends. Little did she know she had to do this until the adventure began.
Why are subplots used?
If you want to add a new dimension to your script to deepen your subject, a subplot can be very helpful. Most scripts, whether film or television, have a few subplots. Well, you don’t want so many to distract you from the main story, but a lot of the time you can have them support what is happening on the main pages.
When writing a feature film, subplots usually introduce themselves when the story enters the second act. Then the characters go in different directions and we see stories expand. On television, we can see subplots develop from the very first scenes, especially in sitcoms, that need them to move the plot forward.
What makes the best subplot?
The best subplots build the world of the story. They help expand the universe, themes, and general mission and intent of the story.
Think of something like Lord of the ringswho follows Frodo’s quest to drop the ring into Mount Doom, but also tells the story of the man who fights Sauron, becomes Gandalf the White Wizard, an elven-human romance, and even the return of a long-forgotten king. These subplots set up the journey, overlap with the A story, and immerse us in our understanding of the intentions of the director and writer.
Let’s look at another example of a negotiation.
Of course, subplots in TV shows are vital. Think of a show like The officewhere the main storyline could be the office taking part in a fun run. But the subplots could be whether or not Jim and Pam date, Toby beats Michael in the run, and some of the gang go for drinks instead of running.
Often romances are used as subplots.
One of my favorite examples of romantic subplots is in the movie Security not guaranteed. In the main storyline we have a character who invests in someone who goes back in time, and in the subplot we have a guy who visits a girl he used to be with. And try to rekindle passions. We see him actually fall in love and then get rejected when he realizes he was a dick so long ago.
We get a lot of romantic subplots on TV. Think about Friends, with Janice and Chandler or all those teenagers in Riverdale find out who to date.
Romantic subplots are great because they keep fans interested and can get people interested in things outside of the main ideas.
As you can see, a strong subplot makes the A plot shine. It can also reinforce the theme of the story and expand the perspectives shown to the audience. In many movies and TV shows, especially those with ensemble cast, it’s incredibly important to develop these ideas and storylines so that people stick with it or stay involved in the drama.
What are some of your favorite B-stories and subplots? I want to hear why you like them and what you learned from them. Let us know in the comments.
And now write again!