Buy Screenwriting Software Download Free Script Writing Software Trial
Free Screenwriting Tips

Hit Me With Your Best Subplot!

By The Unknown Screenwriter

Share |  

Writing Subplots & Multiple Plot Lines In Your Screenplay

More and more screenplays I read lately have hardly any subplots... Especially those screenplays I do occasionally read from people trying to break into the industry.

Subplots are simply TOO IMPORTANT not to include into your story.

Let me say it ONE MORE TIME TO BE PERFECTLY CLEAR...

Subplots are simply TOO IMPORTANT not to include into your story.

UNDERSTAND? Good.

Every once in a while, I will read a script from a newbie that REALLY gets me turning the pages and doesn’t seem to let me even relax between all the action... And, once I’m finished, I actually have to take a breather...

It’s usually during this time that my mind starts to quickly travel through the story again and guess what... IT DOESN’T TAKE LONG.

When it doesn’t take that long, that’s my red flag to quickly go back through the screenplay to see what kind of subplots there were because for the life of me... I COULDN’T REMEMBER ANY.

Don’t think that your subplots will naturally develop... Some will of course but that’s cheating. As you create new characters that interact with your main characters, of course some kind of subplot emerges but these are the kind that we expect.

Don’t take my word for it (unless you want) but I think you need at least the following in your screenplays...
  • The MAIN plot of your story
  • The MAIN subplot of your story
  • Up to three more subplots
Why the restriction? Again, this is my own structural thesis but it really boils down to AUDIENCE and OVERKILL.

I would rather tell a story as concise as possible and have the subplots totally SUPPORT the story rather than take away from the story hence, the above restrictions. Make note that some of these subplots will naturally develop from simple interaction between your characters... This is fine. This is great. Do this as you would normally and keep on doing it.

What I want to discuss here are planned subplots.

First, let’s define SUBPLOT.

Subplot

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

A subplot is a series of connected actions within a work of narrative that function separately from the main plot.

Plot – the connection of events in a temporal or metaphorical line–is distinct from action (events themselves), and when a work of fiction has both a central plot and a second set of connected actions that is separate from that plot, it is said to have a subplot.


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.

A subplot is sometimes referred to as a “B story” or a “C story” and so on, with the “A story” being the main plot.

Okay... So that gives you a general “idea” about what a subplot is... A decent foundation for the information that follows... I hope.

Most important rule about subplots:

ALL SUBPLOTS SHOULD SUPPORT, INFORM, AND EVENTUALLY WRAP UP OR PAY OFF INTO YOUR MAIN STORY PLOT.

Subplots CAN HAVE different TIE-INS to your main story plot

  1. Subplots can ENHANCE your main story plot.
  2. Subplots can UPSET the main story plot.
  3. Subplots can be used to SET-UP your main story plot.
  4. Subplots can be the MIRROR OPPOSITE of your main story plot.

Let’s take them one by one...

  1. Subplots can ENHANCE your main story plot:

    • Subplots do this by introducing new characters, creating theme, and revealing subtext and backstory of your main story plot. * NOTE: Remember, the THEME is what your story is REALLY about underneath all the locations, action, and dialogue.
  2. Subplots can UPSET the main story plot.

    • Subplots do this by introducing new characters, creating a love interest, revealing flaws or problems that the Protagonist possesses or is going through... Revealing other complicated relationships between the Protagonist and other characters.
  3. Subplots can be used to SET-UP your main story plot.

    • I call this the VISUAL PROLOGUE. You’ve seen it before. A scene that basically sets the mood, tone, style, and scope of the main story plot. Normally gives us just a glimpse of the Protagonist, the Antagonist, or a victim of the Antagonist.
  4. Subplots can be the MIRROR OPPOSITE of your main story plot.

    • This is pretty self-explanatory. Basically a subplot that shows a story line that is in complete contradiction to the main story plot.

How to USE your subplots

These are fun little “tricks of the trade” uses of subplots and I’ll list them in order of importance to ME.
  • To slow down the advancement of your main story plot.
This is actually my FAVORITE use of subplots because not only can you slow down the advancement of your main story plot, you can also use the same subplot for a myriad of other tricks...

And they are:
  • Revealing backstory.
  • Revealing exposition.
  • Revealing character flaws of your Protagonist.
  • Introducing other characters.
  • Revealing subtext.
  • Revealing theme.
  • SHOWING simultaneous action that happens alongside your main story plot.
  • Dumbfound, shock, frighten, mystify, excite, satisfy, and relax the audience.
  • Increasing the stakes of your main Protagonist.
  • Supplying tension.
  • Plugging possible main story plot holes.
  • Tying main story plot into other story lines.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list but will hopefully give you a helping hand with your own subplots.

Remember, no matter how good or bad you think your subplots are, they must follow the most important rule:

“ALL SUBPLOTS SHOULD SUPPORT, INFORM, AND EVENTUALLY
WRAP UP OR PAY OFF INTO YOUR MAIN STORY PLOT.”


And, the most important part of the above rule, is that you eventually feed your subplot into your main story plot.

DO NOT leave your subplots unattended!

This is another rule that I wish I could shout out loud at you while you’re writing.

DO NOT LEAVE YOUR SUBPLOTS UNATTENDED!
DO NOT LEAVE YOUR SUBPLOTS UNATTENDED!
DO NOT LEAVE YOUR SUBPLOTS UNATTENDED!
DO NOT LEAVE YOUR SUBPLOTS UNATTENDED!
DO NOT LEAVE YOUR SUBPLOTS UNATTENDED!

There, how’s that?

Unattended subplots take focus away from the main story plot when in fact they should SUPPORT, INFORM, AND EVENTUALLY WRAP UP OR PAY OFF INTO YOUR MAIN STORY PLOT!

You heard that, right?

At the same time, TOO MANY SUBPLOTS can end up doing exactly the same thing i.e., take focus away from the main story plot by having way too much going on.

YOU DO NOT WANT THAT TO HAPPEN IN YOUR SCREENPLAY!

Another good rule of thumb with introducing subplots into your main story plot is to introduce all the characters that will advance those subplots sometime within Act 1.

Remember, a subplot should advance the main story plot; not the other way around... Having said that however, you can often end a subplot when the main story plot also ends as long as you’ve smoothly woven it into your main story plot.

Your subplot needs to start independently from your main story plot and then eventually INTERSECT the main story plot and help push it forward to the end. Think of several rivers eventually dumping into the ocean to help you visualize the concept.

By paying off and resolving all your subplots by the end of your story, you really engage the audience and give them the opportunity to FOCUS on your main story plot. Your subplots will be there to give the audience all the conflict, tension, and drama when they need it most.

About The Unknown Screenwriter

A working screenwriter and producer, The Unknown Screenwriter makes his home in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California and somewhere in the state of New Mexico with just a little bit of Los Angeles thrown in when he feels he can breathe the air.

Resources

Buy Movie Outline 3 Online

30 Day Money Back Guarantee

Buy Movie Outline In-Store

Academic Discount Available

Tag Cloud

headerbox Hover over the screenshots to learn how Movie Outline can help your writing... headerbox